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Sword Catcher by Cassandra Clare

After captivating legions of young adult readers with her bestselling 'Shadowhunter' series, Cassandra Clare makes a confident leap into adult fantasy fiction with Sword Catcher. This sprawling 600-page epic marks the launch of an ambitious new saga, The Chronicles of Castellane, set in a vividly imagined mediaeval world of magic, political intrigue and forbidden love.

We are introduced to the bustling port city of Castellane, dominated by the ruling House Aurelian. The sickly Crown Prince Conor is protected by Kel, a penniless orphan plucked from the streets for his uncanny resemblance to the prince. Kel assumes the role of 'Sword Catcher', acting as Prince Conor's body double in public and shielding him from harm. Though their relationship is complex, Kel and Conor share an unbreakable bond.

In the city's Ashkar ghetto lives Lin, a trailblazing female physician shunned by society for her magical healing abilities. Desperate to cure her dying friend, Lin finds herself navigating the treacherous underworld and crossing paths with the mysterious 'Ragpicker King'. Before long, Lin and Kel's fates become intertwined as they unravel conspiracies that could bring the kingdom to its knees.

Sword Catcher revels in the tropes of classic fantasy. The writing conjures the exotic setting in rich sensory detail, from the opulent palaces to the seedy back alleys. Though the frequently invented terminology is initially overwhelming, the world-building pays off with an immersive depth. The plot, focused on palace intrigue and magical artefacts, takes time to gain momentum but eventually rewards the reader's patience with a propulsive pace.

At the story's heart are two sympathetic protagonists - Kel, grappling with the constraints of duty and sacrifice, and Lin, determined to break the barriers of gender and prejudice. Their inner lives feel emotionally authentic, though their destinies tread familiar ground. Supporting characters like Prince Conor add intriguing complexity, despite being viewed through the limited perspectives of Kel and Lin.

Romance takes a backseat; moments of yearning are hinted at but never fully explored. The lack of romantic payoff may disappoint some readers. Violent action scenes are visceral yet strategically infrequent. Instead, tension builds slowly through a series of calculated revelations, clandestine meetings and cryptic prophecies.

While the climax delivers high drama, with the kingdom in peril, the ending frustratingly leaves most plot threads dangling, clearly angling for the next instalment. This abundance of loose ends dilutes the impact after such an expansive set-up.

Overall, Sword Catcher is a commendable launch pad; Clare skillfully constructs an engrossing new setting and powerful narrative momentum. A bit more economy with prose and fewer tangents would make the reading experience more taut. Fantasy fans, especially those hungry for meaty world-building, will find Sword Catcher a satisfying epic with ample potential.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Pan Macmillan


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