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Saturday, 12 July 2014

FFB - Two angels!

Plenty of books have ‘angel’ in their title. Here are two, quite different novels.

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

This is a prequel to the Mortal Instruments Series (City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass and City of Fallen Angels). Although aimed at the Young Adult readership, most adults will enjoy it.

When Tessa Gray arrives from America in Victorian London (1878) in search of her brother Nate, she is abducted by the sinister Dark sisters. Tessa’s ordeal is prolonged – some six weeks – and painful as the sisters bring out hidden powers Tessa never knew she possessed: she’s able to transform into another person.

Unfortunately for Tessa, the sisters are preparing her for their master, the Magister, who wants Tessa for his own nefarious ends which might involve the overthrow of the British Empire no less.

Circumstances thrust Tessa into the hands of brave and reckless Will and the mysterious Jem, who are Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons – demons like vampires and werewolves.

This is a very well written atmospheric novel with fascinating characters you learn to care about. The descriptions of the mysterious Institute and the clockwork soldiers of the Magister are superb. A diminutive but deadly Charlotte and her inventor husband Henry run the Institute, one of many hidden in the shadow world where normal humans – mundanes – cannot perceive them. As Henry says of his wife, ‘You are as terrifying as you are wonderful, my dear.’

Despite many dark moments, there’s also plenty of humour:

            ‘I intend to marry Agatha,’ said Will. ‘She may be a thousand years old, but she makes an incomparable jam tart. Beauty fades, but cooking is eternal.’

I liked Clare’s apt use of Horace’s line, ‘Pulvis et umbra sumus’ (We are shadows and dust) – which was memorably quoted by Oliver Reed in Gladiator. Indeed, Clare has done her homework – each chapter features a contemporary poetry quotation – and the images conjured up of Victorian London are believable, in all their stink and squalor. Clockwork Angel is far superior to many a so-called adult fantasy novels available. The next in this new series, the Infernal Devices, is Clockwork Prince. (Not to be confused with the equally excellent Mortal Engines series, including the book Infernal Devices, by Philip Reeve).

Nobody’s Angel by Jack Clark

Eddie Miles is a Chicago cabbie and he earns his fares amidst a jungle of crime-ridden housing projects, crumbling and abandoned industrial centres and neighbourhoods laid waste and never reclaimed. For good reason, cabbies try to stay clear of the south and east parts of the Windy City. 

There are no chapters as such, but each section is marked by quotes from the municipal code regarding cabs and their passengers.  We are taken along on Eddie’s nightly journeys and share his heartbreak and nostalgia for the lost City he still loves.  Life in the cab seems to be a constant battle.  Every passenger is evaluated and diagnosed as a threat, a safe fare or a sucker that will pay steep for Eddie’s services.  But now the stakes are even higher than ever as a number of Chicago’s cabbies have been murdered by a serial killer. 
Eddie’s closest friend soon falls victim.

One night Eddie makes a wrong turn into a deserted alley to relieve himself and stumbles upon a serial killer in a van dumping the body of a 16-year-old prostitute.   
Despite the murder and mayhem, the bulk of the novel concerns Eddie’s nightly routine with rude and gracious fares, his wisecracking interactions with his fellow cabbies, and ruminations on his personal life, which is in meltdown.  Despite this, the story is never slow. Clark’s style is clipped, ironic and fascinating and his cabbie character is totally believable.

There’s a tendency to turn the pages quickly, sometimes in dread mixed with delight, just to see who is going to get in Eddie’s cab next. Funny or weird? Drunk or deadly? Before long, you know it’s probably not going to be good.
Some scenes threaten to be heart-breaking, while others are amusing. Life is light and shade. This could be a cabbie’s Heart of Darkness for, be forewarned, in these pages you’re entering the world of noir. In true noir, the darkness does not always herald a dawn...

Jack Clark is actually a Chicago cabbie – and it shoes in the novel. He wrote this book in his spare time and even self-published 500 copies (in 1996) and then sold them for $5 each to passengers and fellow cabbies. It took off but its readership was limited mostly to Chicago. Clark approached the owner of Hard Case Crime and it was taken on and has been very well received. Apparently, Jack still drives a cab. 

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