Monday, 4 June 2012

In Defence of Pop Culture: The Infernal Devices

I'm not about to go to bat for every popular novel out there; that would be a waste of my time.  As I've said before, book snobbery is pointless, but it is sometimes justified.  And it's extremely common.  We all know what we like and sometimes it's hard to see reason in changing.  Ask my best friends.  I can be as resistant to recommendations from them (off the top of my head, the most recent was for the novelization of Assassin's Creed) as they can be to my recommendations, which are usually always Australian Literature.  With the plethora of average in every genre, it can be hard and bothersome to take a risk.  The occasional reward of a great read is too few and far between.

It's very rare I come across a popular series which fills me with that same flutter of anticipation I used to get whenever a new Harry Potter book came out, but I believe the Infernal Devices may come close.  If you're considering giving this one a go, but are intimidated by the fact that Angels seem to be this year's vampires and werewolves, let me tell you that it's worth your effort.  A prequel to the best selling Mortal Instruments series, Cassandra Clare's 'steampunk' esque historical fantasy really hits the spot.


So far, only Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince have been released, with Clockwork Princess due to hit shelves March next year (2013, and just in time for my birthday :0).  The series has been out for a little while now; I'm a bit late to the party on this one.  But like you might be, dear reader, I was a little hesitant to spend my money on what might have been another money-grabbing, sensational Mary Sue series.

Here are a few reasons you too should try these books on for size.

Literary Links

Who doesn't love a book which celebrates... well, other books?  One of my least favourite things to hear in classes at uni (and these are literature and creative writing units) is that other students don't read because they don't have time.  Well, I don't really have a lot of time for the opinions of classmates who don't read.  Let's not talk about books, or anything else.  It's kind of like if you don't cook, get out of the kitchen. 

Both Tessa and Will love to read... poetry mostly... and discuss the things they're read as subtle ways of introducing hidden feelings and themes into the storyline.  Clare also uses poem fragments as an epigraph to each chapter, succinctly foreshadowing what is to come as well as creating a fantastic erudite atmosphere for her London.  Geographical accuracy be damned, give me Dickens every day of the week.

Love Triangles

Has bad writing spoiled the humble love triangle, or has it always been so contrived that two men should love the same woman?  As I saw someone say on Goodreads, it depends on if the woman is deserving of the love in the first place.  Transparent characters lacking in a strong moral view point (come now, let's not name names) don't fool anyone.  So, you didn't get asked out by the most popular boy at your high school?  Why not write a novel, and force a character suspiciously like him to fight with his friends over you.  Problem solved...

The love triangle can be a great plot point, and proves the mettle of many a heroine.  Will she follow her head or her heart?  Traditionally, novels are a form in which the protagonist desires something which he is prevented from achieving by an obstacle, therefore his perception of the desired object is mediated.  In the adventure story, this may be young boy desires treasure on an island but is prevented from getting it by the pirates who also want it.  The romance, although thought of by some as being 'silly women's nonsense' follows this same pattern.  Man desires woman, woman is with other man.  Woman is torn between the two men.

Some undisputedly great examples of the love triangle occur in

*Wuthering Heights between Cathy, Heathcliff and Edgar Linton
* Pride and Prejudice between Elizabeth, Darcy and Wickham
* Les Liaisons Dangerouse between the Presidente, Valmont and and the Presidente's absent husband. (plus some other players besides!)

So if I tell you that one plot line of The Infernal Devices involves a young girl's choice between Will, who her heart (and body) desires and Jem who her good sense and emotions desire, don't roll your eyes, okay?

Puzzling Events

The appeal of a good mystery book is the opportunity to sort out the puzzle before the detective does.  One escapist argument for the reading of mystery novels is that real life is so confusing that as readers, we take solace in the ability to retreat to a place where logic and order triumph over all.  Look at the phenomenal success of writers like Agatha Christie!

The Infernal Devices contains two mysteries.  First and foremost, there is the overarching one.  What is Tessa, and why does the Magister want to kidnap her?  The second mystery differs in each book.  In Clockwork Angel, Tessa must find her brother Nate.  In Clockwork Prince, she must find the Magister and stop him from unleashing an army of automatons.  The readers go along with the Shadowhunters, piecing together clues to try and sort it all out.

Clare has also very cleverly put clues into her Mortal Instruments books which are released interchangabley with these ones to give you no more information than you need, and maximise suspense.

So there we have it.  I hope I've convinced to run out and check these out of the library ASAP.  And when you do, shoot me a comment.  Let's talk theories for Clockwork Princess, I'm itching to know if I am right about who Tessa may really be.

You can find more information about Cassandra Clare's books on her website and her Tumblr.

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