Book Review: The Clockwork Angel is a masterpiece of steampunk fantasy

Steampunk, magic, mystery and love combine in Cassandra Clare's latest novel The Clockwork Angel, a masterpiece of period writing and fantasy realism with stunning imagery and unforgettable characters.

The story takes place in Victorian London where 16-year-old Tessa Gray arrives to live with her brother only to be captured by London's mysterious Pandemonium Club, an organization where humans mingle with vampires, warlocks and other deadly creatures.

During her captivity, Tessa learns that she has the power to shape-shift and that the members of London's magical underground will do anything to get their hands on her.

After six weeks of torture, Tessa is rescued by Shadowhunters, warriors armed with medieval weapons and angelic power; it is their job to maintain order between humans and the otherworldly creatures that secretly stalk London.

Together with Shadowhunters Will and Jem, Tessa unravels a conspiracy helmed by the enigmatic "Magister" to unleash chaos on England with the help of a deadly clockwork army.

The Clockwork Angel is the first installment of Clare's Infernal Devices trilogy, a 19th century prequel to her modern day Mortal Instruments series.

Clare's Victorian London brims with a sense of mud-splattered clarity - a result of Clare's extensive research and sojourn in England. The imagery is theatrical and stunning, gothic and unforgettable. The reader is lavished with descriptions like, "The face of a bad angel and eyes like the night sky in Hell," and, "The sun had begun to set in a torrent of fire. Across the Thames [River], factory smokestacks belched smoke that trailed dark fingers off the sky."

The story is one that could easily wander into high fantasy pretension, but Clare's whip-smart sense of humor keeps it from going over the top, even with the Victorian-era dialogue.

Though several of the characters border on being too similar to Clare's previous creations, each benefits from the author's incredible ability to delve into the minds and motivations of the vivid personalities inhabiting her fictional world.

For fans of Clare's Mortal Instruments, the fabulously flamboyant and eternally classy Magnus Bane - a fan favorite - makes a few memorable cameos, and several names are dropped that recur in the later series.

While these subtle nods are more entertaining for people who have read Mortal Instruments, they don't detract from the enjoyment of newcomers to Clare's fantasy world. Even given the interaction between the two series, each stands on its own and the works can be read in any order.