Can Cassandra Clare Write Her Way Out of YA?

Mel Jones ‘25 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

When Cassandra Clare’s latest novel Sword Catcher was announced five years ago, readers were shocked. A series that takes place outside of the legendary Shadowhunter universe? Impossible. Needless to say, the buildup has been intense, and expectations have been high. Leading up to the book’s release on October 10, BookTok and other online platforms were abuzz with hype, theories, and speculation about the novel. This book is definitely a shift from her previous works, but Clare has continued her legacy of complex, dark fantasy novels while also developing her style of writing and growing alongside her readers.

Sword Catcher is a lush fantasy chock-full of complex worlds, societal mechanics, and, of course, magic. The story revolves around two main protagonists: Lin, a magic user who becomes a practicing physician despite social stigma, and Kel, an orphan who is responsible for protecting Conor, an entitled-but-ultimately-loveable prince. As the book’s name entails, Kel is a “sword catcher” for Conor: essentially a glorified bodyguard. With the help of a magical amulet, his appearance is changed to look exactly like Conor, so he can take the prince’s place in any situation that might be dangerous or compromising. Kel becomes an expendable version of Conor, ready to step in to his aid at any moment. When Kel is attacked on the street by ruffians who think he’s the prince, Lin, who is considered the best physician in the kingdom, is summoned to the royal palace to heal him. The two get to know each other, and are eventually drawn into a plot with a secretive crime boss, the Ragpicker King, that could tear the kingdom apart. Supernatural elements? Check. Political intrigue? Check. Dramatic fight scenes? Check.

Despite its complicated storylines, the book does not hold pretense. Clare makes all of the characters feel convincing and real, giving them unique and complex motivations to survive in a very morally gray world. Lin will go to the ends of the earth to save her best friend from a terminal illness, and Kel feels obligated to remain loyal to Conor, even as he discovers questionable things about the royal family. Despite so many distinct external elements and intricate worldbuilding, the novel is primarily political, and it revolves around the relationship of characters with authority, whether that’s the established monarchy or a mysterious criminal ruler.

Fans of the Shadowhunter Chronicles will find Clare’s eloquent descriptions and complex character relations familiar, even though this novel takes place outside of the Shadowhunter canon. It’s also the author’s first foray into adult fiction, and it contains slightly more mature themes than her previous works (i.e. explicit sexual content), akin to those of Sarah J. Mass. However, Clare maintains a harmonious balance of politics, adventure, and sensuality, and all three elements play off of each other well to form a tantalizing narrative. Despite the book’s 604 pages, it feels concise.

Clare is notorious for having a cult following, and her latest installment has received predominantly praise from fans—Sword Catcher received four out of five stars on Goodreads and is highly acclaimed on Kirkus Reviews. The author’s careful descriptions and crafting of characters have been recognized, as well as her lush imagery. Interestingly enough, most of the criticism directed towards this book is because of its similarity to A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. The magic systems of both books, as well as the concept of a boy being brought up beside the prince to protect him, are very much alike. For Sword Catcher to be fully effective, it needs to pull from tropes that haven’t already been overused, and Clare has historically struggled with originality. Despite this, she is more than capable of penning compelling fantasy, with believable worlds and well-written characters, making Sword Catcher the perfect escapist read for this winter.

The sequel to Sword Catcher, entitled The Ragpicker King, is scheduled to come out in 2025.

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