Author Cassandra Clare is back and this time she has left her Shadowhunter world in the – erm – shadow for a brand new adult fantasy adventure with Sword Catcher, set in the ancient walled city of Castellane.
The story is told from two perspectives, that of Sword Catcher, Kel, who was taken as a boy from the local orphanage for his uncanny likeness to Castellane’s prince and brought up in the palace to take the true prince’s place should his life be in danger.
Now as adults, Kel’s protection for the prince comes from a place of brotherly love rather than duty. However as the prince comes to marriage age, Kel realises his duties must go beyond that of physical protector to sociatal manipulator, and engages in the murkier depths of Castellane to do so.
The book is also told from the perspective of Lin, a local healer from the diasporic people of Ashkar, who use a little magic and are shunned for doing so. All powerful magic in the world has been dispelled due to an ancient war betweer sorcerers, but when Lin comes into possession of an antique stone, she delves into old-forgetten magic to try and save the life of her best friend.
Telling the story from both the affluent and underprivileged sides of Castellane allows rich detail for Clare’s world, and there is a comprehensive account of the city’s history, politics and royal heirachy. Though this gives the reader a vivid picture of the world, getting to grips with it can feel quite arduous, making Sword Catcher a rather laboured read.
There are also large swathes of the book with little action. Kel’s job is primarily to make speeches and attend state dinners in lieu of the prince, which can feel a little disaapointing for someone named ‘Sword Catcher’.
It’s similar for Lin’s side of the story. Clare gives her world a fiery and interesting history with magic but for Lin, this doesn’t mean fancy spells but mainly a long search for a book in her quest to heal her friend.
Things do, however, start to get lively when Lin gets involved with crime lord the Ragpicker King. When Kel also embroils himself with the shady character, Lin and Kel’s world start to smartly intertwine and all that time spent discerning the complex streets of Castellane comes to fruition as the scope of both their actions start to be realised.
There are also a couple of intriguing romances to keep readers hooked in a ‘will they won’t they’ trope, and after Clare’s commitment to world-building, emotional investment in the book’s characters almost sneak up on you, but it does so with aplomb.
When the Sword Catcher cliffanger finale takes place, it does so with finally a decent amount of action, and readers will feel genuinely connected to the characters’ fates, meaning you’ll be clamboring for the next book in the series. It’s just a shame it all comes quite late.