Mini Review: Sword Catcher by Cassandra Clare

Posted 23rd November 2023 by Sia in Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

Sword Catcher (Sword Catcher, #1) by Cassandra Clare
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Bisexual MC
PoV: Third-person, past-tense, dual POVs

In the vibrant city-state of Castellane, the richest of nobles and the most debauched of criminals have one thing in common: the constant search for wealth, power, and the next hedonistic thrill.

Kel is an orphan, stolen from the life he knew to become the Sword Catcher—the body double of a royal heir, Prince Conor Aurelian. He has been raised alongside the prince, trained in every aspect of combat and statecraft. He and Conor are as close as brothers, but Kel knows that his destiny is to die for Conor. No other future is possible.

Lin Caster is one of the Ashkar, a small community whose members still possess magical abilities. By law, they must live behind walls within the city, but Lin, a physician, ventures out to tend to the sick and dying of Castellane. Despite her skills, she cannot heal her best friend without access to forbidden knowledge.

After a failed assassination attempt brings Lin and Kel together, they are drawn into the web of the mysterious Ragpicker King, the criminal ruler of Castellane’s underworld. He offers them each what they want most; but as they descend into his world of intrigue and shadow, they discover a conspiracy of corruption that reaches from the darkest gutters of Castellane to the highest tower of its palaces.

As long-kept secrets begin to unravel, they must ask themselves: Is knowledge worth the price of betrayal? Can forbidden love bring down a kingdom? And will their discoveries plunge their nation into war—and the world into chaos?

I say this as someone who was mega into Clare’s Mortal Instruments series as a teen, and have loved her Dark Artifices trilogy as an adult: there’s really nothing special about Sword Catcher. It’s not bad, but it’s very, very forgettable.

What comes across is that this is a world the author has worked on probably for a long time, and definitely with a lot of love – and wants us to love it too. Clare wants to show us all of it; no detail is too small to be lovingly described. Sword Catcher is much more description than it is plot; clothing, upholstery, food. And I don’t mind that! I love description, the lusher the better! Give me all the purple prose! But this isn’t lush enough to justify how little momentum the story has, and what’s being described…isn’t all that interesting. Most of the countries we hear about are clearly inspired by countries in the real world – Hind is clearly an India analogue, for example, and the mysterious Ashkar are heavily drawn from Medieval/Renaissance-era Jews (to the point that their ruling council is called the Sanhedrin, a real Jewish term). Castellane itself, the setting of the book, is just Generic Fantasy City, with your typical backstabbing nobles and underground criminal politics, horse-drawn carriages and doctors who are still into bleeding their patients. Nothing about it stands out in any way from a million other fantasy settings.

Plot-wise…there definitely was plot – several different sub-plots, in fact – but it all felt very slow and drawn-out and meandering. The plot was very clearly not the point. Even when quite important things were happening, they lacked any sense of intensity – which is surprising, because I would have said Clare has amply demonstrated in her YA that she can write page-turning intensity very well. But this book just gave me brain-fog and sent me to sleep, even when lives were on the line or the like.

For me, Sword Catcher was brain-fluff; it was a book I could pick up when I wasn’t able to handle anything more complex. Even then, in that mood, there were more than a few moments where I was bored nearly senseless, and others where I was just annoyed about how slow and obtuse most of the characters were. Individually, on paper, most of the characters should have been interesting, but together they had no chemistry. I never felt the emotions of the characters, or felt for them; they all seemed unforgivably bland. Case in point: arguably the most important relationship of the book, that between Kel, the titular Sword Catcher, and Conor, the prince he loves and protects, had no substance to it at all – I had no idea why Kel was so loyal to Conor, was told it more than felt it, and got no sense that it was a reciprocal love; if anything, I thought Conor was an unbelievable asshole who needed a good dunk in reality.

Basically: it was fine. Almost aggressively so. I don’t recommend it, and despite the promise of Dramatic Things To Come, I have no intention of reading the sequel.

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