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Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
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Swordspoint (1987)

by Ellen Kushner

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Riverside (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,970713,445 (3.98)115
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» See also 115 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
This is a "fantasy" story in which nothing fantastic occurs. There is no magic, nothing supernatural, and nothing that would be out of place in an alternate Europe, except that the city in which the story is told exists nowhere, and the specific details of its workings are invented whole cloth by the author. Since the story is placed in a world that is essentially boring old Europe kind of but maybe not, the crutches on which so much fantasy leans are not available here. There's no grand trip, or loving explanation of just how it all works, or spells to mcguffin the main characters out of a particularly knotty plot point. Swordspoint has to rely entirely on the strength of its characters and the interplay of their various ambitions to hold the reader's attention, and how much you like reading about those characters will likely determine how fond you are of the book. I loved them, so for me Swordspoint was a complete success. Fantastical or no, it turns out to be a fantastic read.

The premise of the plot is this: The city is run by a group of aristocrats, who employ swordsmen to assassinate, challenge, or impress. There are some rules of honor but generally murder is an accepted risk in this society for the upper class. Good swordsmen therefore are in extremely high demand, and our main character, St. Vier, is one of the best. He's a simple man, who is picky about jobs and doesn't really care about the politics behind his employment, and that eventually threatens to put him into a lot of trouble, as he ends up in the middle of a mess in which about 5 different actors are all maneuvering around each other to come out on top. The supporting cast is lively and at times unpredictable, and their attempts to manipulate each other are a lot of fun to follow. Even though the story is centered around swordsmanship, action is not its focus, and although the fights that are there are good ones, most of book is told in scenes of conversations. I wouldn't exactly call this an adventure.

Of all the many relationships in the book, the relationship between St. Vier and his lover, Alec is definitely the best. It breaks a few fantasy conventions, particularly gay fantasy conventions, by being established from the very beginning, and being a central element but not the focus of the plot. I can't tell you how many gay fantasy books I've read where in the first book the two love interests barely even register attraction for each other, so I appreciate a story that cuts through the will-they-won't-they crap and gets on with the story after the hookup. And what makes me even happier is that this book is self contained and doesn't leave loose ends for a series of increasingly duller sequels.

So Swordspoint gets a thumbs up from me for being a well written and paced, character driven, self-contained story of the sort that I haven't read a million times before. ( )
  bokai | Feb 8, 2017 |
It's very rare that I give up on a book. But, sadly, that is the case here. Despite the rave reviews and five star ratings this novel just didn't engage with me.

The pace is funereal and while its well written I just didn't connect with the characters. The central pairing of the swordsman, St Vier, and the mysterious ex-student, Alec, just didn't ring true. St Vier is boring and Alec is an intensely annoying brat.

The intrigue and machinations of the nobles were all a bit "so what". I just didn't like any of these people, didn't care about their outcomes and that's probably why I couldn't get into the book. Oh well, each to their own. ( )
  David.Manns | Nov 28, 2016 |
With it's total absence of magic or the supernatural, this is not a true fantasy novel but rather an alternate-reality historical or, as the author would have it, "a melodrama of manners."

The writing is good, often excellent, and I found the plot entertaining enough. Others have compared Swordspoint to the works of Georgette Heyer (whom I have not read) or Dorothy Dunnett (whom I promise I will read when next I have a hundred years to plow through and comprehend long-winded, intricate, witty, convoluted historical fiction).

But my great disappointment with Swordspoint was the utter lack of characters I could care about. These people are self-aborbed whiners, merciless schemers, souless murderers, or depraved fools. I wanted to slap them, or wash their souls out with soap.

It's a pity a writer of this talent could not find a modicum of redemption anywhere. Maybe in her later books...



( )
  JackMassa | Nov 23, 2016 |
A re-read from back in the 90's, and it still holds up today. In fact, this time around I caught onto a lot more of the inner court intrigues that Ellen Kushner creates. The honor code of the swordsmen, how they accept (or not) their next commission, how Richard is drawn into court life through no fault of his own, and even how his whiny, troubled partner is more realistic than likeable, all of these are real elements in this world. To call it a fantasy novel is a mis-nomer; it could almost be historical fiction in the tradition of Guy Gavriel Kay if there was a real, truly live place like Riverside. ( )
  threadnsong | Jun 18, 2016 |
3.5. I picked this up after enjoying Tremontaine (the prequel serial) so very much; and in comparison, Swordspoint did disappoint me slightly. Where Tremontaine's world feels rich, the characters passionate, and slight desperation fills their narratives; Swordspoint's characterisations actually felt a little flat. Almost as if this book was a nudge in the door to see if such a concept was acceptable within the realms of fantasy (it was 1989 I suppose! Having LGBT characters in fantasy still gets gasps of shock now!), and now with time, Kushner has become more daring, and is no longer reining everything in to the point of it feeling slightly dry, and a little brittle.

It's still full of societal intrigue, back room politics, and swordsman ready to stab people at a noble persons whim. In that area, it still delivers extremely well.

It will be interesting to see, as this chapter of the Riverside series progresses, if the fire is lit a little brighter under the characters, so that they aren't completely smoothered by all the intriguing plot machinations. ( )
  BookFrivolity | Apr 23, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 70 (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.
 

» 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
Springett, MartinCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sullivan, NickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Man desires that which is Good.
-Plato
"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
Dedication
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.

Swordspoint

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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:09 -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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