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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
1,777613,949 (4)103
Recently added byLopiCake, HeatherMOConnor, private library, meghanas, sianbt, SamLau, IndyLibrarian, vildvittra
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    MyriadBooks: Gutter-Duke swordpoint politics, meet assassin ninja-priests.
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    Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling (Sorceress_rin)
  3. 10
    Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott (sandstone78)
    sandstone78: Another story revolving around two men in a relationship that takes place largely in a single city.
  4. 00
    Havemercy by Jaida Jones (FFortuna)
    FFortuna: Very similar, and both fantastic.
  5. 00
    Maledicte by Lane Robins (FicusFan)
    FicusFan: Very Similar 'Period' Fantasy Feel, a Black Comedy of Manners

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Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
Ellen Kushner and I seem to like a lot of the same things: swashbuckling, intrigue, sharp drawing room conversation, m/m romance.

The basic ingredients of Swordspoint are pleasing but the final product is not. It should have been a rich, fluffy cake; instead it turns out to be an oozing mess.

Reviewers have singled the book out as unique because it is set in a fantasy world, an alternate reality, without magic, but I have read other books that fit in that category (such as Lloyd Alexander's Westmark trilogy, or Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books) and have far superior world-building. In the afterword to my edition, Kushner writes that the city where the novel is set is "made up of my favorite bits and pieces of every other city I'd walked in or read about: Shakespeare's London, Georgette Heyer's Paris, Damon Runyon's New York, for starters." Obviously there is nothing wrong with pulling aspects of various eras to create one's imaginary world—that's the very appeal of steampunk—but here the parts do not make a convincing whole. The parts are still too visible. I always knew when I was in a Heyer scene, and when I was in a Shakespeare scene.

To make matters worse, Richard St Vier, the presumed hero of the piece, has no driving motivation until halfway through the novel. He's merely a swordsman, a duelist, carrying out orders, and all he wants to do is to keep things as they are, which would be fine if something was threatening his equilibrium, but it isn't, not until 140 pages into the novel. I was far more intrigued by the character who seems (at first) our secondary protagonist, Lord Michael Godwin. Like him or not, he is always wanting and working towards something, whether it be the favors of Diane, the Duchess Tremontaine, or the knowledge of swordfighting. If the novel had been primarily about him and detailed his romantic exploits in lurid detail, I probably would have enjoyed it a great deal more.

It seems that for most, one's opinion of the novel seems to rest on one's opinion of Alec, Richard's destructive and self-destructive lover, so it's not surprising that I couldn't stand him. If he was merely suicidal, I could understand that, but he is bloodthirsty in a way that neither the swordsmen nor the nobles who employ him are, and one never really understands why. He does show some mettle near the end of the book, as does the Duchess, but I wouldn't trust either of them further than I could throw them, and I think Richard and Michael respectively would be much better without them.

This is one of those books where at first glance everyone appears to be bisexual, but upon further examination one finds that only the young, attractive men are. The women all seem straight, presumably because lady-on-lady isn't Kushner's thing, and of course the old, villainous lecher Lord Horn is gay, an unfortunate stereotype reproduced without any shades of gray.

Most shockingly, given all the romantic intrigue, it seems that the denizens of Riverside and the aristocrats on The Hill alike are all lacking genitalia, for all of the sex scenes—even one extended night of passion between Richard and Alec—are described only from the waist up. They're frightfully boring and not in the least sensual. Even a polite fade to black would be preferable to this approach; at least then one's imagination can run wild. If you can't write hot sex don't write it at all, dammit.

The front of my edition features words of praise from such luminaries as Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin, Peter S. Beagle, and Guy Gavriel Kay, and whenever a discussion of queer fantasy novels comes up Swordspoint always seems to be among the first mentioned, but I think it's pretty much a wash, and will not be reading any of the companion novels. ( )
  ncgraham | Feb 9, 2015 |
This story focuses with microscopic detail on the social aspects of a fictional high society in which duelists fight proxy battles for a pampered nobility. It was clever, funny, and struck a nice balance of action and conversation. ( )
  wishanem | Jan 27, 2015 |
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. ( )
  librarycatnip | Jan 12, 2015 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
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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
For the Other One
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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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