My review of the first book in her Mortal Instruments trilogy, “City of Bones”, was hardly the glowing review of the year, and anyone with a white belt in google knowledge can look up the less than clean history of Miss Cla(i)re and her fandom shenanigans. I bring them up here because, as I mentioned in my first review of her work, her work reads like fanfiction (with one whole passage of it taken from her most famous Harry Potter fanfiction, as you can see from here.) So I knew I’d never read the rest of her Mortal Instruments trilogy (now padded out to an upcoming 6 part series) but when the Mortal Instruments prequel series, The Infernal Devices, was announced and released to great fanfare, topping the New York Times children’s bestseller list, my interest was piqued. The added addition of the increasingly popular steampunk trend also intrigued me since there was absolutely no mention of steampunk in the first series and I wanted to see how Clare handled the topic. The answer for the more impatient readers – she doesn’t handle it well. Actually, there isn’t much in this book that Clare handles well. The choice of Victorian London for the setting could have been interesting but instead of being given a proper insight into the city’s streets, atmosphere and way of life, we’re given a few generic descriptions that seem to have been taken from research notes without any care. A true setting feels alive, like it’s a character in the story, but here London feels lifeless. The Victorian setting also feels stilted and awkward. Clare doesn’t handle the language change very well as the dialogue reads as inauthentic in style as well as wooden and unoriginal in substance. Occasional name dropping of books from the period (and comparisons made to them) such as “Jane Eyre” does not make an authentic setting, nor does shoe horning in some clockwork creatures make this a Steampunk novel, as it’s been trumped up to be. Steampunk isn’t just about dirigibles, goggles and cogs, it’s about the entire world image it brings up and nothing about this weak attempt at setting the book apart worked effectively. It also doesn’t make sense seeing as this is a prequel series and the Mortal Instruments had absolutely nothing pertaining to Steampunk, clockwork creatures or similar technology. Let’s be honest; Clare’s trying to cash in on a trend and she fails miserably. If you want interesting YA set in Victorian times, try Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart quartet, or the adult Lucifer Box series by Mark Gatiss (also an excellent example of how to write a charismatic jerk the right way.) Outside of the world itself, the characters are not only derivative and boring with all the Mary Sue connections one would expect from Clare’s writing, they’re the exact same characters as the ones from the Mortal Instruments series. I’m not even exaggerating; they’re exactly the same! Tessa is a carbon copy of Clary (oh, and Tessa Gray – Clary Fray... subtle, Miss Clare), boring Mary Sue super special prettiness and all, even though she shows incredibly moments of stupidity. She’s got this amazing ability and is super special even when compared to the other super special people in the book but is still barely capable of saving herself. Will is Jace/fanon Draco through and though, because apparently being a complete jerk devoid of charm is still acceptable for a potential love interest in a half baked romantic element if he’s good looking (once again, the less than subtle undercurrent of beauty being the best thing ever is present and accounted for). The shadowhunters also still have the same holier than thou attitude towards humans/mundanes that they had in City of Bones, and yet nobody complains about it. Jem is Simon without the sense of humour and is clearly here just to be the nice, sweet alternative to Will so Clare can show how oh so different he is from Will, and Jessamine is Isabella, a.k.a. the token female character who exists to be a shallow bitch so everyone can see how much better Tessa is. Jessamine actually has some interesting moments, like her worries over never having a normal life, but any potential for depth is thwarted by terrible characterization. Fan favourite – and one of the few things I did like about City of Bones – Magnus Bane is here but with a girlfriend instead of a boyfriend and he barely makes an impact on the story. I was half expecting him to stand on a table and scream “Sexy cameo!” And herein lies the biggest problem with this book. Clare is ripping off her own series. She’s just lifted characters from her original series and stuck them in a Victorian setting, hoping that petticoats and the London setting will hide her weak writing (also, I got really pissed off at super special American Tessa constantly going on about how terrible London was compared to lovely New York. Whining is still not a viable character trait in my book), although to her credit she has stopped using as many stupid similes as she used to so there’s no mind-boggling references to octopus tendril hair or the like. There are huge chunks of clumsy exposition as Clare shoves in mythology from the Mortal Instruments to make this series seem as if it’s a continuation of the world instead of a straight up cut-copy-paste job and the plotting is dull, derivative and predictable, much like City of Bones, which in turn was derivative same old repetitive nonsense borrowed/lifted from her fanfiction. Going all the way back to her fandom days, Clare has proven herself to be a mediocre writer at best and a thief at worst. It’s not just that she plagiarised the fanfiction that made her famous and may or may not have played a huge part in getting her a book deal. It’s not just that her first book series was a giant rip off of her fanfiction that she ripped off of other works. It’s that her next venture, where she could have proven herself to have some creative ideas, often a saving grace in derivative plotting and writing, and just copied something she copied from something else. Essentially, Clare has written a fanfiction of a fanfiction of a fanfiction. And that’s why I cannot give this book anything higher than 1 star.There will be people who will enjoy this series. Maybe they’ve read the Mortal Instruments, maybe they haven’t, but the writing style is easy enough to read, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read and some people might enjoy the extremely light dashes of so called Steampunk. But for me this book was a complete waste of time. I do not use the word ‘hack’ very often for a number of reasons – it’s overused and often loses its meaning, there’s a wide spectrum for definition when it comes to good and bad writing, et cetera – but when a writer is as lazy as this and clearly cares about nothing beyond jumping on trend bandwagons and making money, then I can say this with complete confidence:Cassandra Clare is a hack.