“One cannot have everything, or the Gods would come to envy mortals. Is that not what happened to the Callatians? They built their towers too close to heaven, challenged the Gods with their accomplishments, and for it their Empire was destroyed?”
Hello again dear reader or listener, I hope you are enjoying great reads in the coziest of spaces now that fuzzy blanket season has well and truly settled around us.
First, a big thank you as always to the Del Rey team for sending me this eArc in exchange of an honest review, I was dying to read it! My thoughts remain honest.
I may have aged out of Cassandra Clare’s YA Shadowhunter universe several years ago but, Will Herondale, modern Byronic hero par excellence, will forever have a special place in my heart. So, when I heard that Clare was finally branching into something new and adult, I was extremely intrigued to say the least. Add to that the super interesting premise of a boy plucked from the streets to act as the crown prince’s bodyguard and double, and a woman striving to save her friend from an unknown illness through any means necessary, and I was so in.
Initially I was curious to see if Clare would fall into the trap some authors who transition from YA into Adult struggle with, and that is still writing characters with the emotional intelligence of a teen and all the ensuing melodramatic antics, but with more explicit sex sprinkled in to remind you this isn’t actually for young audiences. So it is with great satisfaction that I can say this wasn’t the case here. Clare successfully transitions from YA into Adult, with a brand new epic fantasy full of interesting characters and promising potential that I am eager to keep following in future installments.
Let’s get to all the whys and hows, shall we? Starting from the hmms as always.
It is a testament to how well this story flowed and how smoothly Clare wove her tale, that I managed to get through her long ass chapters. Truly, when I first saw ‘50 mins left in chapter’ for the prologue I needed to take a deep breath. That was 25 chapters over 600 pages for better perspective. I even thought my Kindle was glitching on me. If you know me dear reader, you’ll know long chapters are a big pain to me and granted, after than first big monstrosity of a chapter, the others, albeit still stupidly long at times, had changes of pov in between, breaking up the scene in way more manageable pieces. I’m not a real format snob, but short chapters are a delight to someone like me who likes to pause their reading at chapter ends. So, you can imagine the struggle hahah. But in more seriousness, the long chapters are a big initial scare however, the pov changes work super well at managing pace and giving you a full 360 view of what is going on through the city-state of Castellane in a way that feels organic and continuous.
Another thing that was a little clunky to my eyes was the author’s use of languages and real world cultural inspiration. Now, don’t get me wrong, fantasy languages can be fun, even more so when they use (properly informed) real world inspirations, but to me there’s always an extent to which it fits or not. I’m not a huge fan of several full sentences being written down, especially when the translation is given right after, or the character that is listening to it is supposed to know said language. It just slows the reader down for no reason. For her part Clare did this to an extent that was enough for me to feel it was unnecessary at times, but not enough for it to ruin the overall effect, and she did so with proper linguistic advice at her back. Also, as an honorary Italian living less than two hours from Venice, I was pretty amused at seeing the venetian dialect (it’s not really a language technically but let’s not digress down that rabbit hole) in this book. It may have taken me out of the story in the moment but purely out of cultural memes influence and I suspect all of her Italian readers will share the same laughs. Secondly her clear parallels to Jewish/Hebraic heritage and history, while handled with care and respect (as far as I can tell to the extent of my own knowledge on the topic) and well-integrated into the story, was at times overshadowing the author’s own worldbuilding. Clare does an amazing job at bringing her new world to life and I deeply appreciated the multiculturality and diversity she brought into this book, her writing truly is evocative and flows in the manner you’d expect from a seasoned author of multiple books like herself. But there were instances when she leaned too heavily on her real world counterparts, enough for it make it hard for the reader to differentiate the two or not be a little brought out of the fantasy.
The last thing I didn’t entirely enjoy were the in-world mythos interludes, not because they weren’t interesting, but because said mythos is mentioned and discussed by the protagonists enough already that the rehashing of it in the \interludes felt redundant.
Overall, I’d argue this book is a good mix of character and plot driven action though. Kel and Lin are great protagonists each in their own right, each filled with different senses of duty and loyalty to their loved ones, but each also flawed in some way that not only makes them more realistically rounded but you root for them all the more to grow and develop. As a fellow mid-twenties walking existential crisis myself, I could relate to both characters in some way but also see their doubts and hangups or preconceptions for what they each were. I also appreciated that they’re not romantic interests but rather this book saw the budding of what promises to be a solid platonic relationship and camaraderie between them. The kind that I love to read about but that also, if it were to eventually develop into something more it would also fit. However, I don’t think that’s where the story is headed for now. In fact, if I’m being honest, I’m not sure this book will thrive on being marketed as a fantasy romance. There are romantic elements for sure but it is in no real way a part of the plot and that isn’t a bad thing either. Fret not romantasy fans though, there is suitable angst and feels regardless. I would argue that Kel is for the moment more self-aware and mature than Lin under certain aspects, and the way he’d reason through the actions of his friends or his childhood crush were actually refreshingly mature and intelligent in ways that brooked no random or semi toxic resentment common among certain tropes. Also the bromance between Kel and his prince Conor just gave me aaaall the feels, because we get to experience an incredibly close and established bond begin to crack and being tested which oooh boy. I’m not sure I am ready to face what will come next for them but if it goes a certain way, we ride at dawn.
The two protagonists get to shine through the gradual unfolding of the mysteries of Castellane, and even though we barely get any answers worth a damn it works so well!! Those are the kind of questions I still want to have at the end of a first book! I need to know more about the King, the Ragpicker King, and everything in between! And I want to spend more time with all of these complex characters, both protagonists and secondaries, especially if Prince Conor becomes a pov character in later books, the foreshadowing is killing me!! Special mention also goes to Merren because he is a precious Cinnamon Roll TM we must protect at all costs, never mind he is a trained chemist and poisoner. I love him and he just a bebi.
In short, dear reader or listener, if you’re looking for a strong debut in a new adult epic fantasy, that blends together multicultural influences, seamless diversity, complex and well rounded and layered characters, with an intriguing mystery and a compelling magic system, you definitely need to give Cassandra Clare’s Sword Catcher a go. Sooner rather than later! And to make things even better the story ends in what I call a soft cliffhanger, where something big and climactic happens and concludes and you have the danger of something even bigger looming in the horizon, keeping you hooked for more.
Until next time,
Eleni A. E.