This first adult fantasy novel by Cassandra Clare appears to mark the beginning of a vivid series about a new world and its history, religions, and peoples. The titular “sword catcher” is a body double for the crown prince of Castellane, the key city-state in the wider world of Dannemore. The novel begins with the acquisition of Kel, an orphan selected for the role of sword catcher. His position is known only to the royal family and several close advisors. Kel is raised alongside Prince Conor and pretends to be his cousin and companion from the Queen’s homeland. His value as a double would be lost if potential assailants knew his true identity.
Castellane is richly populated with noble houses, tradespeople, students, courtisans, and criminals. There are many beautiful objects, furnishings, and books in the palace, and Kel certainly benefits from the extraordinary life he’s been promised. At the same time, he must learn to navigate a crowd of nobles and advisors to help protect the prince, for whom he cares deeply.
Among the different peoples of Castellane are the Ashkar, who are required to dress differently and live separately. The Ashkar were once the people of Aram, back when magic was still available to all. After the Sundering, Queen Adassa of Aram removed magic from the world. The only magic left — known as “Gematry,” and consisting of talismans, charms, and healing — is performed by the Ashkar.
Because the non-Ashkar resent the existence of Gematry, as well as the Ashkar people’s continued worship of Adassa, they’ve come to distrust them over time. Laws have been enacted to control them. They are required to wear gray clothing to identify themselves, like yellow stars in another world, and they’re forbidden to attend university. The Ashkar are also prohibited from being at large after nightfall and must always return to their walled community, the Sault. Their history is similar to that of the Jewish people; many even have Jewish names.
Unfortunately for us readers, not all of the characters and places in Dannemore that we grow fond of will remain peaceful. Charter families, criminals, and external rivals have plans that will be dangerous and destructive. The next volume will undoubtedly bring more excitement and tragedy.