A few months ago I talked about The Infernal Devices as part of my post on prequels. At the time, I focussed on its relationship to The Mortal Instruments, and so today I’m going to talk about it as a series in its own right. One of the things I love about the world of the Shadowhunters is that, while the series are all interrelated, each series can be enjoyed on its own, and TID is probably my favourite so far.
Similarly to TMI, we’re introduced to the story through the eyes of someone unfamiliar with the Shadow world. This means that you don’t need to have read TMI at all to enjoy TID, because you can learn everything you need to know about Shadowhunters and Downworlders alongside Tessa.
Victorian London provides the perfect backdrop for this story. Setting it more than a hundred years before TMI means there are few characters that cross over between the two series (though, considering the immortality of warlocks and vampires, there are a few), allowing the series to distinguish itself from its predecessor. More than that, though, Victorian London was a hub of industrialisation and scientific progress, meaning the automaton army that Tessa and her friends face is distinctively Victorian.
The contradictory morality of the Victorians also forms an interesting foil for the Clave’s own bigotry and biases. On the one hand, the Clave is more progressive than its mundane counterparts in allowing a woman to run an Institute, but at the same time it’s made clear that the only reason Charlotte Branwell was chosen was because the Consul hoped that, as a woman, she would be pliant and biddable, thus demonstrating the same attitude that the Victorians held. Likewise, the Clave does not take an imperialistic attitude towards other human cultures, as mundane Victorians did, but its approach towards Downworlders is eerily similar. The parallels between the real-world Victorians and the Clave throughout the ages are subtle, but this setting adds another layer of richness to the overall portrayal of the Clave’s underlying prejudices and bigotry.
As Allison said on Tuesday, one of Clare’s strengths as a writer is the relationships between her characters, and nowhere is this more true than in TID. The core romantic storyline is a love triangle, but it is so beautifully, heart-wrenchingly written that it has me in tears every time. Love triangles seem to be a bit passé lately, perhaps because of their ubiquity in YA a few years back, but I’m of the firm opinion that, while love triangles as an easy way to add drama to a relationship are never a good idea, a well-written love triangle is like romantic angst gold. And, oh, does Clare bring the angst.
One of the reasons I adore the love triangle in these books is that the Will and Jem are never rivals for Tessa’s love; they’re parabatai, Shadowhunters bonded together for life, and their love for each other is at least as strong as their love for Tessa. The fact that neither boy will compete with the other for Tessa’s love changes the dynamic from the typical love triangle and places the emphasis on Tessa’s agency and choice rather than any petty feuding between her romantic interests. It also, of course, means an extra helping of angst for all three characters, because Will and Jem’s unfailing support for each other makes it nearly impossible for Tessa to even realise when her actions hurt one or the other, because neither will show it out of fear of hurting his parabatai. In the end, the relationship between Will and Jem is just as interesting to read as that between Will and Tessa or between Jem and Tessa.
The Infernal Devices is an ideal read for existing Shadowhunter fans who have read The Mortal Instruments and are hungry for more. Because it’s discrete from that series, however, it is also the perfect introdution to the world of the Shadowhunters for readers who are more interested in steampunk or historical fantasy than in urban fantasy.
Nicola thinks being a Shadowhunter would be pretty cool, except the whole constant danger bit.