Review: Sword Catcher by Cassandra Clare

 

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OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Cassandra Clare was born to American parents in Teheran, Iran and spent much of her childhood travelling the world with her family, including one trek through the Himalayas as a toddler where she spent a month living in her father’s backpack. She lived in France, England and Switzerland before she was ten years old.

Since her family moved around so much she found familiarity in books and went everywhere with a book under her arm. She spent her high school years in Los Angeles where she used to write stories to amuse her classmates, including an epic novel called “The Beautiful Cassandra” based on a Jane Austen short story of the same name (and  which later inspired her current pen name).

After college, Cassie lived in Los Angeles and New York where she worked at various entertainment magazines and even some rather suspect tabloids where she reported on Brad and Angelina’s world travels and Britney Spears’ wardrobe malfunctions. She started working on her YA novel, City of Bones, in 2004, inspired by the urban landscape of Manhattan, her favourite city. She turned to writing fantasy fiction full time in 2006 and hopes never to have to write about Paris Hilton again.


FORMAT/INFO: Sword Catcher will be released from Del Rey Books on October 10th, 2023. It is 597 pages and told from the POVs of Kel and Lin. It will be available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: From the age of ten, Kel has trained to be one thing: Sword Catcher to the prince of Castellane. Kel is both body double and bodyguard, raised alongside the prince as his pretend cousin, ready to take a blade for the prince at a moment’s notice. Lin, meanwhile, is a healer, ostracized from the city for her religion and from her own people for being a woman in a masculine profession. She seeks a cure for a dying friend, and her investigations into forbidden magic eventually bring her to cross paths with Kel as he investigates threats to the prince – threats that could be the start of a movement to destroy the entire kingdom.


Sword Catcher
is a decent fantasy adventure, fast-paced and captivating, but with a cliffhanger ending that left me disgruntled rather than dying to know what happens next. Let me start with the positives: after a bumpy start for the first 50-ish pages (more on that below), I found myself pretty well hooked on the story. Despite it’s 600 pages, I read through Sword Catcher at a decent clip, easily reading 100-ish pages a day. It was definitely a book I was happy to sink into, with plots and mysteries and nobles throwing debauched parties. As Lin tries to figure out how to make an ancient magic work and Kel tries to figure out who is conspiring against the prince, I found myself eagerly reading to find out the answers.

VERY broad, vague discussion of the ending of the book

Alas, I was to be disappointed. The author here has chosen to save every single solitary answer for book two of the duology. I cannot think of a single mystery introduced by the book that was solved by the finale. I would have had no problem with questions being left unanswered if the author had give me SOMETHING. Instead, I got no satisfying payoff, no tiny mysteries resolved, even if they led to bigger ones. Combine that with multiple characters that are mentioned repeatedly without ever showing up on page (though they will undoubtedly appear in the sequel), and my look back at Sword Catcher fills me with the sense that the book was treading water instead of moving things forward.

/End discussion of end of book

I also struggled with the start of the book for two reasons. The first is that I found there was a lot of awkward infodumping right up front as the author rushed to establish the kingdom and its neighboring kingdoms. The other was the unfortunate fact that we start this book with Kel, an orphan adopted by the royal family and raised alongside the prince, who has no control of his life because of the special service he provides to the royal family. Thing is, if I’d said that last sentence to most fantasy fans right now, they’d think I was talking about Kel from A Darker Shade of Magic, who also happens to be an orphan adopted by the royal family and raised alongside the prince, who has no control of his life because of the special service he provides to the royal family.

Look, nothing under the sun hasn’t already been done at some point, but the use of the exact same unusual name of a very similar (very popular) character was…a choice.  

Thankfully, once the story moved away from Kel and introduced Lin, things began feeling fresh. Lin’s culture was inspired by the author’s Jewish heritage; Lin’s people live in their own quarter in the city and are generally looked down upon for the ability to perform small magics. As a physician, Lin has to navigate a city that mistrusts her, even as it demands her specialized skills. I really enjoyed her aspects of the book, especially contrasted against the privilege and opulence of the nobility.

CONCLUSION: In the end, I am of very mixed feelings on Sword Catcher. The majority of the time, I enjoyed myself while reading this book, constantly reading for long stretches. But when I finished, I was unsatisfied with where the plot ultimately left me. The story itself certainly left the world state in an interesting place, but without any answers of consequence. All will hopefully be revealed in the second part of this duology, but I’m uncertain if I’ll be back to read it.

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