The past few years have seen quite a few big-name young adult authors make the leap into adult fiction: Holly Black, Leigh Bardugo, Sarah J. Maas, Kiersten White, and Shannon Chakraborty, to name just a handful. (And their books have, for the record, all been excellent.) And now another of YA fantasy’s biggest names—Cassandra Clare—is finally set to release her first adult title, and readers everywhere are rightfully excited to see where her stories go next.
Called Sword Catcher, the novel manages to sound like both a significant departure for Clare as an author and a natural next step for her as a storyteller. Before anyone asks, no, this book is not part of her sprawling Shadowhunters universe and it doesn’t sound as though there’s a stele or a parabatai in sight. Instead, Clare crafts an entirely new world centered around the wealthy city-state of Castellane, a crossroads for the wealthy and influential, and tells the story of two outcasts trying to find their place within it.
Described as a dramatic epic of power, intrigue, and magic, Sword Catcher introduces a new era from one of the most popular voices in fantasy.
Here’s how the publisher describes the story.
In the vibrant city-state of Castellane, the richest of nobles and the most debauched of criminals have one thing in common: the constant search for wealth, power, and the next hedonistic thrill.
Kel is an orphan, stolen from the life he knew to become the Sword-Catcher—the body-double of a royal heir, Prince Conor Aurelian. He has been raised alongside the prince, trained in every aspect of combat and statecraft. He and Conor are close as brothers, but Kel knows he has one destiny: to die for Conor. No other future is possible.
Lin Caster is one of the Ashkar, a small community who still possess magical abilities. By law, they must live behind walls in the city, but Lin, a physician, ventures out to tend to the sick and dying of Castellane. Despite her skills, she cannot heal her best friend Mariam without access to forbidden knowledge.
After a failed assassination attempt brings Lin and Kel together, they are drawn into the web of the mysterious Ragpicker King, the criminal ruler of Castellane’s underworld. He offers them each what they want most; but as they descend into his world of intrigue and shadow, they discover a conspiracy of corruption that reaches from the darkest gutters of Castellane to the highest tower of its palaces. As long-kept secrets begin to unravel, they must ask themselves: Is knowledge worth the price of betrayal? Can forbidden love bring down a kingdom? And will Lin and Kel’s discoveries plunge their nation into war—and the world into chaos?
Though Sword Catcher won’t be available until October 10, 2023, we’re thrilled to be able to exclusively reveal the (absolutely gorgeous!) cover for you right now.
We had the chance to chat with Clare herself to get the scoop on what to expect from this new series, the inspiration behind the story,, and why Shadowhunters fans will find plenty to love in the world of Sword Catcher.
Paste Magazine: Tell us a little bit about the story of Sword Catcher and the inspiration behind it.
Cassandra Clare: Usually for me, the first thing that comes in a story is the characters, and then the story weaves itself around them. With Sword Catcher, for the first time the people and the place came at the same time, in a sort of burst of images and color.
The place is Castellane, a multicultural, multilingual city driven by trade. It’s a wealthy city, and that wealth has created a powerful aristocracy who are always trying to get more, more, more—more gold, more silk, more trading routes, more power, more influence. Castellane was inspired mostly by my love of traveling and history, and my fascination with the way people of all kinds meet at crossroads. A huge amount of the fun of this book for me is the sheer variety of the people and places that have all come to Castellane to seek their fortunes or escape their fates.
Two of those people are our main characters. First we have Kellian Saren, the Sword Catcher. He is the body double for Prince Conor, heir to the throne of Castellane—though he’s starting to realize there are some dangers he can’t protect Conor from. And then we have Lin Caster, a doctor and member of the Ashkar, a religion whose members are forced to live in a walled ghetto in Castellane. Despite her skills, Lin can’t heal her best friend, Mariam, who is slowly dying.
The characters were inspired by various fascinations of mine—with the history of the city of Venice; with body doubles of the powerful through history; with the lives of medieval Jewish physicians; with the ways people push against the roles in which society binds them.
Paste: After writing so many extremely successful YA fantasy series, what made you want to take the leap into writing an adult fantasy story? How different are the two in your mind?
Clare: It’s tempting to joke around and say that in adult fantasy I can get away with slightly more edgy or spicy material, and that’s a little bit true. But only a little bit. YA is pretty well-supplied with edginess and spiciness itself these days.
The actual answer is that, from the beginning of my working on it, Sword Catcher has been a story about adults rather than about teenagers, so it was always going to be an adult fantasy.
The big difference to me is that in YA, your characters are working on problems of identity: What kind of person am I? What are my values? What does it mean to love someone new? But the characters in Sword Catcher are in their early twenties, and they’re facing a different question: What does it mean to take on the responsibilities of adulthood? For the first time, it matters that Conor is the prince because being the prince is his job—there’s pressure on him to marry, to make substantial decisions about the fate of his city. And Kel will stop being the Sword Catcher when Conor becomes king, so…what is he going to do then, presuming he survives? He’s starting to realize that when dying for someone else has been your only purpose, you don’t really know who you are. Lin has been practicing as a physician, but because of who she is, there are certain kinds of medicine and knowledge that are forbidden to her—but what if she breaks the rules? Will the consequences destroy her?
Paste: It seems important to note that Sword Catcher is not a Shadowhunters book. Does it feel at all strange to be creating an entirely new world for this story?
Clare: It was both a great thrill and a great challenge. I’ve never actually written in, or created, a fully secondary world like Castellane, and at first it was daunting. My other series are all set in magical worlds within our own real world. I didn’t have to figure out the layout of New York City to write Mortal Instruments, but Castellane had to be built from scratch. Not to mention its society. What are all these countries that people come from? Who are Lin’s people and what’s their role in this world?
And, of course, you don’t build the whole world and then just drop characters in it. The world and the story co-create one another, as the characters take shape and inform the world, and the world takes shape and informs the characters. And once I got used to the new challenges, it was enormously enjoyable to plan out Castellane’s neighborhoods and its rich families and its crime syndicates. I’ve come to love Castellane and its people and look forward to getting to spend more time there. I hope readers will too!
Paste: How do you think this new series compares to your Shadowhunters books? What do you think readers of those books will love most about this one?
Clare: Even though there are no Shadowhunters in Castellane—also no demons, werewolves, faeries, or vampires, for the record—it’s still me writing! It’s an urban fantasy adventure full of magic and romance and intrigue, and I hope you’ll agree that doesn’t sound like too much of a stretch for Shadowhunters readers.
So what will they love most? Well, I think they’ll love Kel and Lin, and Conor, and the Ragpicker King, and all the other folks waiting to be met who I don’t have space to mention here! But also, I think they’ll love Castellane. Cities have always been a huge part of the Shadowhunters universe, and big international cities at that—New York, London, Los Angeles. Castellane is huge and diverse in the same way, but with a totally different feel than any place my books have visited before.
Paste: Even the little bit I’ve read about Sword Catcher so far sounds amazing—just the sheer depth of the world-building and internal mythology that has clearly already gone into it. What part of coming up with this new story and its characters was most interesting or fun for you?
Clare: Well, I always love getting to know new characters, and learning who Lin and Kel were as I developed the story itself was the great journey of writing the book, really. But I also loved all the research that went into figuring out Castellane and the way it works. Castellane is a place of extremes: there are glorious, glamorous parties; there are bloody public executions and rampant crime and elegant murders and political poisonings. I had fun diving into the history places like Venice and Instanbul, cities that were centers of trade, borne aloft by wealth and corruption.
And then there are the Ashkar, whose story and situation derive partly from my own cultural background: the Jews of medieval and modern Europe. I hadn’t gotten to do that kind of deep dive into my own people’s folklore and history for a book before and it was a lot of fun to finally do so.
Paste: Sword Catcher is the first half of a duology with its sequel (titled The Ragpicker King). Is it too early to ask if you already have plans to explore this world further, beyond these two books? (Probably, but a girl’s gotta try!)
Clare: I suspect nobody who knows my books will be surprised to hear that there’s more Sword Catcher planned. I know all of what happens in book 2, most of what happens in book 3, some of what happens in book 4, and inklings of what might come beyond that. It’s hard to tease any of book 2 when nobody’s gotten to read book 1 yet, but if you enjoy Sword Catcher, then I can promise that Ragpicker King adds 30% more crime, 40% more mystery, and an elephant.
So despite it having one fewer elephant, I’m really looking forward to readers getting to join me in Castellane for Sword Catcher. This story and this world have been in my head for years, and I’m so excited I finally get to share them with you.
Sword Catcher will hit shelves on October 10, 2023, but you can pre-order it right now!
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.