Based in a supernatural Victorian London populated by an assortment of vampires and demons, creatures from the ‘downworld’, the book opens as Tessa Gray moves from her native New York to live with older brother Nathaniel.
Things take an unexpected turn, however, when she is abducted en route by the Dark Sisters. Shortly after, Tessa discovers she herself is a downworlder with the rare ability to transform her shape. As Tessa takes refuge from those seeking to hunt her out, she becomes ensnared in a love triangle with James and Will, both of whom are every bit the flawed hero types with a chequered past that are so familiar to the urban fantasy sub-genre. Readers of Clare’s earlier ‘Mortal Instruments’ series will find much that is recognisable in this prequel. Transportation to Victorian London lends depth, but for all the research and details that might be referenced in the book, this narrative nonetheless suffers through being a rather sanitised portrayal of a highly colourful point in history. The writing is of a quality throughout, but adherence to too many of the conventions that have quickly become stereotypes of urban-fantasy do give this a generic feel.