The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel (manga) by Cassandra Clare – Review

Book Jacket:

A manga-adaption to the prequel of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, The Infernal Devices is the story of Tessa Gray, a sixteen-year-old American girl traveling alone to Victorian London who runs afoul of the city’s sordid supernatural underworld. Rescued by the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, Tessa quickly finds herself caught up in an intrigue that may very well destroy her new friends – including the two enigmatic young men, Jem and Will, who have taken her under their wing…


So I came to this manga adaptation of two minds – I’m always curious to see how well a novel translates into graphic-novel form, but, to be honest, in general I’m just not particularly enamored of Cassandra Clare’s books (see my review of the novel version of Clockwork Angel as for why). I actually was hoping that the streamlined nature of the manga would help smooth over some of my roughest areas of vexation – and to an extent it did, and I actually did enjoy the manga more than the novel itself – but the slimmed-down nature of the adaptation also threw into relief my largest issues with this story, which unfortunately did persist even in translation.

But first off, let’s start with the look – as an anime fan myself, I just loved the manga style HyeKyung Baek brought to the artwork. So often with these type of adaptations the art style can be a huge stumbling block for me – I just couldn’t fully get into the style of the Kim Harrison, Patricia Briggs, or Richelle Mead adaptations – but the style of this book really, really worked for me and fully swept me into the story. I think manga was an excellent choice – though it’s not full-on manga, in that it’s more Americanized and reads left to right – and it works particularly well in terms of the characterizations of Tessa, Will and Jem in that they’re faithful, but also stylistically different enough so as not to clash with whatever pictures we all have in our heads. And while I did find myself wishing for more color panels – as I always do with manga – and I also found myself wishing for a bit more discerning detail when it came to some of the secondary characters, Charlotte and Jessie in particular, all in all I was very, very happy with the look and style.

As for the story itself, as I said above I really did prefer this streamlined version of the narrative. It really honed in on the plot, which was always the most interesting part of this story for me, and minimized the romantic melodrama, to my ever-lasting relief. Though of course the downside of the streamlining is that it does lead this manga to try a bit too hard to cram smaller story points in where it can, despite not having the room to do them justice, and I rather think it could all be a bit confusing for people who haven’t read the book prior to reading the manga – but overall I really liked how this take on the story moved swiftly along, all the while staying firmly focused on what happened to Tessa’s brother, and how his disappearance tied in to the evil villain’s evil scheme.

But alas, my issues with this story could not fully be resolved by translation. Once again I found myself wishing for more detail in terms of period and setting – this story, as novel or manga, never truly gave me a sense of London or the Victorian era. And while reading the manga I was all but drooling for a sumptuous, preferably full-page portrait of the time and place, which sadly never materialized, because it was never in the book in the first place. Sigh.

And now we’ve come to the core of my dissatisfaction with this story, which this stark version crystallized for me. Previously I had laid the blame on the melodramatic angst – the way Tessa laid down and let Will treat her terribly (which thankfully was heavily streamlined in the manga), and the utterly stereotypical love triangle (the bad boy who needs to be “saved”, and the good friend who is tragically going to get screwed over – for the love of green apples can we please stop beating this dead horse) – but now I realize those were merely symptoms of the larger problem. Because this story, the story I thought all this time was Tessa’s story, is nothing of the sort – and I can’t believe I missed something so obvious, seeing as Will is on the cover of both the novel and manga. But the plain and simple fact is, this is Will’s story – and therein lies my utter frustration with it, because I WANT it to be Tessa’s story, I always have, and it simply can’t be.

Now in my defense, this story does masquerade as Tessa’s story – she is our entree into the world, after all – but to be brutally honest, I now think of Tessa as less of a character and more of a narrative device, a lens through which to view Will. Tessa is just an asteroid stuck in the gravity well that is Will (to borrow a New Moon analogy), and everything she is and does is about him – she exists to be rescued by him, to create danger for him, and to be a facade through which to ogle him. That’s it. Everything between Tessa and Jem is just a rather blatant set-up for a tragic ending which will bring Will and Tessa together forever (though if Clare proves me wrong I will be utterly relieved), and really this book is just not about Tessa at all, and it never was. And so we have a “main” character who is essentially a cipher – and therein lies my endemic dissatisfaction with her lack of character, which permeates this entire book. And sadly, it’s a problem that no amount of artwork can overcome.

And so once again I finish this story with no plans to read the next book in the series – and yet, of the two formats, I am far and away more likely to pick up the manga rather than the novel. So who knows, maybe someday I’ll get curious enough to give it a go – and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be lucky enough to be proven wrong.

Byrt Grade: B+

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Mundie Moms says:

Really I should say, “Will and Jem in magna form, need I say more”, and be done with my review…I’d definitely recommend this book to Infernal Device fans.

Kate O’Neil on Fandom Post says:

It’s painfully obvious from the start that Tessa is going to fall for Will, who’s a handsome jerk hiding what is no doubt a painful past. Jem is the more open, more genuine nice guy, who also happens to have a terminal disease and clearly is going to loose out despite being the better guy. These set ups frustrate me to no end, and if the story ends up going that route then I truly have no idea why the author bothered….The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel suffers from trying to do too much in too short a space. It often feels like a haphazard mix of things that the author felt was cool, but lacks an identity of it’s own…Yet despite all of my complaints, I was actually invested in the story enough to see what was going to happen.