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Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner

Swordspoint (1987)

by Ellen Kushner (Author)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Riverside (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,772583,970 (4.02)102
Recently added byAngelika57, parasolofdoom, steelprimate, jenspirko, private library, DReicht, eaterofwords
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    MyriadBooks: Gutter-Duke swordpoint politics, meet assassin ninja-priests.
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    Maledicte by Lane Robins (FicusFan)
    FicusFan: Very Similar 'Period' Fantasy Feel, a Black Comedy of Manners

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» See also 102 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
This is a pretty fabulous book all around, swords, characterization, detailed world building, the works. I particularly like the completely natural way in which the main characters' same sex relationship is presented. There is just never any suggestion that it is anything out of the ordinary. I love it. ( )
  raselyem7 | Aug 30, 2014 |
Plot: 2 1/2 stars
Characters: 3 1/2 stars
Style: 3 1/2 stars
Pace: 3 stars

If there'd been more tension, this would have had a much higher rating from me. Maybe it's because I was reading it on a slow day at work (a coworker friend was astounded I'd never read any Kushner and had the "We must fix this immediately" reaction, so I gave it a try), but while I can see the appeal, I didn't enjoy it. I just kept wanting something more to happen than what actually did. ( )
  Jami_Leigh | Jun 22, 2014 |
I will admit that I 'absorbed' this title as an audiobook from the up-to-this-point irrefutably amazing audiobook list put together by Neil Gaiman. But, but, esch-gag, most of it was acted out with cling-clangy sword clashing and crunchy footstep noises. My imagination feels coddled.

Besides that, I really enjoyed Kushner's creation of scenery and ambiance. She really is a master of the craft. (I deducted a star for her poor taste in audiobook production - since the version I listened to was put together by her)

( )
  konrad.katie | Apr 24, 2014 |
Excellent, I have never enjoyed such a good story with such fun characters as Kushner has created. Absolutely brilliant!
  densallee | Apr 9, 2014 |
Originally posted at FanLit. http://www.fantasyliterature.com/reviews/swordspoint-a-melodrama-of-manners/

Set in a fictional Georgian-era-type society, Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners is a "fantasy of manners" or "mannerpunk" novel. In contrast to epic fantasy, where the characters are fighting with swords and the fate of the universe is often at stake, mannerpunk novels are usually set in a hierarchical class-based society where the characters battle with words and wit. There may or may not be magic or sorcery involved and, in many ways, this subgenre of fantasy literature is more like historical fiction that takes place in an imaginary universe. The focus is on societal structures and social commentary. Characters may not be changing THE world, but they're changing THEIR world. If you like Jane Austen and P.G. Wodehouse, mannerpunk may be just your thing.

In Swordspoint, the infamous swordsman Richard St. Vier is a tool of the upper class. Those who can afford his exorbitant rates may hire him to challenge a lover who's spurned them, kill off a rival, or just make a party more exciting. Perhaps Richard wouldn't have taken that last assignment if he'd known how the nobles were scheming before the next election. Now he's been dragged into their business, and it's quite a quagmire. On top of that, he has to deal with the eccentricities of his lover Alec, a university dropout. Meanwhile, playboy Michael Godwin is pursuing the widowed duchess, trying to evade the amorous intentions of an important councilman, and secretly pursuing his desire to be a swordsman like Richard St. Vier.

Swordspoint is somewhat original considering that it's one of the first "mannerpunk" fantasies and features several bisexual characters (unusual for a book published in 1987). The book is highly recommended by Neil Gaiman and is part of his new Neil Gaiman Presents audiobook collection. For this reason, I guess, I was expecting more.

The story is diverting -- a nice enough way to spend a few hours -- but that's really about all I can say. All of the characters are unlikable, nastily plotting and scheming against each other, abusing each other, or being abused. Richard St. Vier could have been a great character, but his love for Alec was incomprehensible. Alec is boring, sullen, selfish, possibly crazy, and completely without any noticeable value other than his good looks. Why is Richard willing to kill anyone who messes with Alec, a man who's always trying to provoke situations in which Richard will be forced to fight a duel? Not a convincing love affair. I also didn't think that Swordspoint, supposedly a comedy of manners, which relies on witty and clever dialogue, was particularly witty or clever. The plot, though diverting, was not exciting or clever either.

In its favor, the book is well-written, with smooth prose and excellent pacing. I really liked Riverside, the low-class area where Richard lives. The storyline in which Michael Godwin leads Lord Horn on, changes his mind, and then tries to evade Horn's advances, is funny. I was just expecting more.

The audiobook version is narrated by Ellen Kushner herself (who you know, if you've heard her on NPR, has a nice voice) with the addition of a "full cast" who reads some of the dialogue some of the time (sometimes Kushner reads the dialogue). Kushner's tone is light and breezy and better with the narration than the dialogue. When she reads the dialogue, her breeziness and lack of variation in tone doesn't help her characters' personalities. However, the actors who occasionally do the dialogue (Dion Graham, Katherine Kellgren, Robert Faas, Nick Sullivan, and Simon Jones) are excellent. The sound effects that are occasionally added to the background are atrocious. For example, when the nobles are drinking tea from fine china cups and saucers, it sounds like they're in a downtown diner. Fires crackling and clocks ticking disturb the narration. It's ludicrous, but fortunately the sound effects are infrequent.

I'm eager to try one of Ellen Kushner's other mannerpunk novels. Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners was just okay, but I like Riverside and plan to try the sequel, The Privilege of the Sword, which takes place years later and features a female protagonist. It's also available from Neil Gaiman Presents and I've already purchased it. I'll let you know. ( )
1 vote Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kushner, EllenAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Canty, ThomasCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fass, RobertNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Graham, DionNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kellgren, KatherineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kushner, EllenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reyes, Manuel de losTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sullivan, NickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Man desires that which is Good.
"We all have flaws," he said, "and mine is being wicked."
-James Thurber, The Thirteen Clocks
In the end...everything will be found to be true of everybody.
-Lawrence Durrell, Balthazar
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Snow was falling on Riverside, great white feather-puffs that veiled the cracks in the façades of its ruined houses; slowly softening the harsh contours of jagged roof and fallen beam.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553585495, Mass Market Paperback)

The classic forerunner to The Fall of the Kings now with three bonus stories.

Hailed by critics as “a bravura performance” (Locus) and “witty, sharp-eyed, [and] full of interesting people” (Newsday), this classic melodrama of manners, filled with remarkable plot twists and unexpected humor, takes fantasy to an unprecedented level of elegant writing and scintillating wit. Award-winning author Ellen Kushner has created a world of unforgettable characters whose political ambitions, passionate love affairs, and age-old rivalries collide with deadly results.


On the treacherous streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. Within this elite, dangerous world, Richard St. Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless--until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead of awe, and the city discovers that the line between hero and villain can be altered in the blink of an eye.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:51 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In this collection which includes a novel and three short stories, the great swordsman Richard St. Vier is forced to become involved in a plot to gain control of a nameless city where elegance and decadence coexist.

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