“There is no great secret. You endure what is unbearable, and you bear it. That is all.” ~Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices Book 3), Cassandra Clare
Summer is here! I thought for a while, especially after the feet of snow that we had in March, that it would never actually get here, but as I sit on the balcony at the beach in SC, I realize the incontrovertible truth that summer has finally come. Woohoo! I have big plans for this summer, including a ridiculously long reading list (I've brought home a giant crate of books along with another massive bag holding the overflow) and a gigantic revision of my writing. I just finished The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, a novel I started in March but just now came around to reading. It was awesome, and well worth the wait. I'm now plowing through four of Lauren Oliver's books, which I'm sure I'll write about soon enough. But alas, I did not sit down at my laptop to write about summer, or the current novels. I sat down here to write about the phenomenal series I read a few weeks ago, The Infernal Devices series (also familiarly called the Clockwork series) by Cassandra Clare.
Where to begin with this? First, a confession (that may lower your view of me as a literary person): I do not particularly like Victorian literature. I've never been big on Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, or even Charles Dickens (though I did find myself strangely in love with Great Expectations when I was a sophomore in high school). I've never been a big fan of third person omniscient narration, nor have I enjoyed reading about the way that things were in the 1800s. In college, I focused on Postmodernism, and I was fascinated by deconstruction of metanarratives and the notion of the simulacrum in literature. In essence, I could not have been more removed from the study of Victorian literature.
If you have not read this series, my rambling about literature undoubtedly seems irrelevant, but this all comes around to the fact that Cassandra Clare accomplishes a phenomenal feat in her series; she echoes the tropes and style of Victorian literature while creating a science fiction/ fantasy world full of suspense, mayhem, and intrigue that rivals anything in YA literature today. Set in late 1800s London, these novels include famous passages from the time period at the beginning of each chapter, and echo the style and description of the time period. They simultaneously challenge the traditional tropes of fiction, and Clare forces readers to grapple with the implications of stories and the way that we are all drawn into them.
Translation for the teen reader and the classroom: I should say that these novels were recommended to me and brought to me by one of my freshmen students. She told me that I would love them, but to be honest I was a bit daunted by the size and by the notion of reading all of them before the end of school (you know what May is like for teachers). When I started Clockwork Angel, three different students approached me in the hall or during my parking lot duty to tell me that those novels were the best series they had ever read. I will say that the first one in the series takes a bit of work to get into the world of the characters, but it is well worth the investment. From about page 150 through the end of the third novel, I could not put them down. I haven't read The Mortal Instruments series (City of Bones) yet, so I cannot compare them. However, I can say that these novels address many issues, such as: discrimination, deception, the value of life, revenge, and the complexities of love. I can also say that they introduce students to the tradition of Victorian literature while also creating a world that is completely fantastical and that escapes from our own. I hope that you will place these novels on your summer reading list, and that you enjoy them!
“You know that feeling,” [Tessa] said, “when you are reading a book, and you know that it is going to be a tragedy; you can feel the cold and darkness coming, see the net drawing tight around the characters who live and breathe on the pages. But you are tied to the story as if being dragged behind a carriage and you cannot let go or turn the course aside...I feel now as if the same is happening, only not to characters on a page but to my own beloved friends and companions. I do not want to sit by while tragedy comes for us. I would turn it aside, only I struggle to discover how that might be done.” ~Clockwork Princess, Cassandra Clare
The first in its series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor is a riveting story that draws you in from the moment it begins. Much of the first novel is mysterious as Karou attempts to figure out who she really is and how she fits into the world. Constantly lonely, Karou struggles to relate to other people and to find her place. It isn’t until she meets Akiva, an angel who should be her mortal enemy, that she begins to discover traces of her true self. However, as she makes that discovery, her only true family is torn away from her and she finds that she is more alone than ever before.
Throughout both of the novels already released in the series, Karou struggles to reconcile what is in her heart with the harsh reality of her world. These novels grapple with the impact of war. Brimstone, Karou’s surrogate father, says to Akiva: “Have you ever asked yourself, do monsters make war, or does war make monsters? I've seen things… There are guerrilla armies that make little boys kill their own families. Such acts rip out the soul and make space for beasts to grow inside. Armies need beasts, don't they? Pet beasts, to do their terrible work! And the worst part is, it's almost impossible to retrieve a soul that has been ripped away.” Brimstone explores the way that war impacts communities. Although it is a fantasy novel with angels and demons, Taylor dives into the all-too-human essence of war and revenge and the way that those forces can decimate the soul.
Days of Blood and Starlight is even more riveting than Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Laini Taylor never lets the action lapse as Karou rediscovers her past and finds new and courageous ways to help her people. I can’t wait for the next novel!
Translation for teen readers and the classroom: This is an excellent series for teens who love fantasy and who aren’t intimidated by longer books. The kids are tearing through them in my classes, and so far both novels are receiving rave reviews. As far as classroom application, what I love most about this series is the way that it gets into the heart of war. It forces the reader to reconcile the fact that there are good people (and bad people) on both sides who are simply doing what they have been trained to do, and that their preconceived notions of the “other” are shaped at birth and enable them to justify the violence. The novels do a stellar job of showing the devastation that war causes for everyone involved, both on a personal level and on an epic scale.
“Dead souls dream only of death. Small dreams for small men. It is life that expands to fill worlds. Life is your master, or death is.” ~Laini Taylor, Days of Blood and Starlight
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.
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