In addition to being Crown Prince Conor of Castellane’s lifelong, loyal friend, Kellian “Kel” Saren is his Sword Catcher, a bodyguard and body double. He trained to intercept, protect and, ultimately, die for Conor’s safety. Lin Caster is a young physician and a member of the Ashkar people, a minority group that possesses a rare magical ability called gematry. The practice of embedding spells in talismans or objects, gematry is considered the weakest of the elder magics, but it is the only one still in existence.
Bestselling YA author Cassandra Clare spends a large amount of Sword Catcher, the first book in a fantasy trilogy and her first work for adults, building out the city-state of Castellane while Kel and Lin shed their naivete and expand their worldviews. Kel begins to see that Castellane has secrets which even he is not privy to. And Lin, having fought to be the only female physician among the Ashkari, discovers a stone of secret, magical history that could be the key to curing her terminally ill friend. Throughout the story, Kel and Lin’s paths rarely cross; their stories run parallel but for a few chance twists of fate.
Kel is the himbo best friend everyone wants in their life and can’t hope to deserve. He is irrefutably loyal to Conor and always wants to do what is right. While a well-trained fighter, Kel is not quite bright enough to consider the consequences of every action he or Conor makes. This lack of awareness could have made Kel obnoxious, but instead he’s endearing, like a friend who still needs to learn how to change a tire.
Lin on the other hand, is brash and bullheaded, burning bridges faster than she can build them. Orphaned as a child and abandoned by her grandfather, Lin has had to fight for everything, learning medicine with significantly less resources than her male peers within the Ashkari or the malbushim (the Ashkari word for “outsider”) doctors in Castellane. Like Kel, Lin has an understandable but extremely narrow perspective: She does not immediately recognize imminent danger to one of her clients, and accepts invitations from curious people in terrifying carriages. (Kel does this as well; apparently “stranger danger” is not a commonly taught concept in Castellane.) However, also like Kel, Lin’s adolescent perspective is amusing rather than grating.
Sword Catcher is a fun, light story for fantasy fans looking to dip into a new world. Clare fills the pages with fascinating details about Castellane’s magic, politics and dangerous secrets, and pulls off several excellent twists. However, few of these setups lead to satisfying payoffs: Sword Catcher is very much the first part of a larger story, and contains almost no complete arcs within its pages. Readers looking for closed narrative loops should look elsewhere, but all others will enjoy the entertaining characters and setting of Clare’s series starter.