I wanted to try out Cassandra Clare's work and after a bit of back-and-forth with other bookish folks, I decided this would be a good place to start. The Infernal Devices is, as I understand it, a sort of prequel trilogy to the rest of her Shadowhunters series, which is quite extensive.
This trio follows the tale of Tessa Gray, a young woman in pseudo-victorian London who is kidnapped and tortured by witches until she manifests a unique power: to shapeshift into anyone just by touching something of theirs, and gain access to their memories. Before she can be turned over to the 'big baddy' to have her powers exploited to evil ends, she is rescued and swept into the world of the shadowhunters, an enclave of supernatural warriors descended from angels who battle to keep the darker forces of the magical world in check. Through the course of the three books, Tessa helps her new companions track down the nefarious mastermind behind her kidnapping and stop his evil plot to take over the world.
There is an undercurrent of 'found family' in this series that I really enjoyed. The Institute (the shadowhunters' London base) and its inhabitants form a unique blend of characters that each have their own distinct presence, and they play off each other wonderfully. Charlotte was probably my favorite character, though I really liked Magnus as well. Jem and Will were each charming in their own way, but I didn't get hugely attached to any of the three main characters.
Romance is a big part of this trilogy, primarily the somewhat exhausting love triangle between Tessa, Jem, and Will. There's physical attraction and a few brief, semi-steamy moments but in all, it's appropriately tame to suit the victorian-era backdrop. I don't usually mind a love triangle, and this one wasn't awful, but I did get a bit fatigued with the back-and-forth and I'm not a big fan of polyamory (AKA the 'why choose' mentality that has been gaining popularity lately). Call me old-fashioned. I adored the minor romances, though. Sophie and Gideon stole my heart.
On a technical level, this was a bit of hit-and-miss, in my opinion. The first book and most of the second were well-paced and reasonably plotted, but the third felt like it went off the rails for the entire middle half. The pace ground to a halt and the POV switches became disorienting. Then there's that really strangely-timed intimate scene... It eventually pulled back together to wrap up nicely, but that middle bit was a drag. Overall, the subplots felt a bit sparse and underwhelming, and didn't seem to add much to the story. Dialogue was reasonable, but prose felt stilted and flat and the constant literary references began to wear on me after a while. Having well-read characters is great, but don't base an entire relationship between two of them on a fictional work that only a small portion of your audience will have read.
All-in-all, it was an intriguing premise and I found it entertaining, but I don't think I'll be picking up any more of Clare's work in the future.