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 as close as brothers, but Kel knows that his destiny is to die for Conor. No other future is possible.
Lin Caster is one of the Ashkar, a small community whose members still possess magical abilities. By law, they must live behind walls within 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 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 their discoveries plunge their nation into war—and the world into chaos?
I loved it! Even if this is more a “setting the scene” book for the whole series to come than “stand on its own” book.
Because the relationships between the protagonists are just at their beginning and because we still don’t have enough information to know who the real villain is.
But what a “setting of the scene” that is!
Many complain about the info dump but I loved that part.
I read slowly because I wanted to absorb that new world, its colors, smells, intricacies. I loved discovering that rich world, its people, the city of Castellane, the Ashkar, enclosed behind walls that reminded me a lot of Jewish getho, the loss of complex magic, … That worldbuilding is intricate, the politics are complex and given the current world circumstances I wouldn’t be astonished if some witch hunt will ensue for Cassandra Clare even if she wrote it long ago.
In that new world, we learn that the Sundering had destroyed all magic except small spells and the talismans of gematry, the ancestral magic of the Ashkars. “Because of that, Lin’s people were hated and envied in equal measure. Because of that, special laws applied to them. Because of that, they were not allowed out of the Sault, the walled community in which they were required to live, once the sun had gone down. As if they could not be trusted in the shadows.” The Ashkars are a people without land, forever moving and at the mercy of other people’s welcome.
We follow two main point of views: Kel and Lin, even if a third main character, prince Conor is crucial to the story.
Kel is an orphaned boy taken at nine years old from the orphanage to become the royal prince, Conor Aurelian’s Királar or Sword Catcher. He is meant to stand in for the prince and protect him from danger.
Kel had never known what it meant to be needed by anyone and when Conor asked him if he wanted the role, Kel realized that he wanted to protect Conor. He’ll be educated in all court manners, impersonating Kel’s cousin. It’s a unique opportunity for the orphan.
But if he is forever with Conor, he’ll never truly be part of the Palace.
“You are uniquely positioned Kel Saren. You are both of the Palace and not of it, of the city and not of it. You stand in the place between.”
The second main character is Lin.
Lin is Ashkar and a physician. She had to fight to be able to learn medicine as no woman has ever done it before. She also is the granddaughter of Mariesh, the royal family’s councilor.
Being a woman and being Ashkar is making Lin’s dream of learning every medicine possible a nearly impossible task.
“There had been a time Lin had wondered what it would be like to study at the Academie, but its doors were closed to the Ashkars, and she’d abandoned that dream.”
Lin is driven by her will to save her best friend, Mariam, who has been slowly dying since childhood. That will push her to acts of extreme bravery or stupidity according how you choose to see them (her last move had me so frustrated and wanting to throttle her).
It took a loooong time for these two main character’s paths to cross. And if I had expected a love story between these two, things seem to go another way with more of an “enemies to lovers” and “forbidden love” story to come.
Kel is on a quest to discover who is threatening the Aurelian family, tasked by the mysterious Ragpicker King to gather information even if Kel does not plan to work for him.
By the end of the book we won’t be closer to discover who is the villain even if the situation is dire.
One of my main thoughts was also about Prince Conor. He had me feeling the same as I did for Cardan Greenbriar when I was underwhelmed by the end of the first book and prayed that he would have a hell of a character growth!
To sum it up, I loved:
-the mystery surrounding magic’s disappearance and possible reappearance;
-Lin, smart, strongheaded, selfless even if her last choice drove me mad;
-Kel without reservation;
-my theory about the Ragpicker King’s identity;
-the political intrigue;
-the rough draft of love stories to come.
I hope that:
-Conor will grow up;
-Antonetta will play a bigger role.
Thanks for reading.