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Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners Mass Market Paperback – 1 Jan 2003

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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Spectra Books; Reprint edition (1 Jan. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553585495
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553585490
  • Product Dimensions: 10.9 x 2.4 x 17.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 378,320 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
SNOW WAS FALLING ON RIVERSIDE, GREAT WHITE feather-puffs that veiled the cracks in the facades of its ruined houses; slowly softening the harsh contours of jagged roof and fallen beam. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 2 April 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Is _Swordspoint_ fantasy? Is it (quasi-)historical fiction? Does it matter? Whatever label you give Ellen Kushner's first full-length novel, it makes for fantastic reading.
_Swordspoint_ transports us back in time (with a little bit of a shift) to a City that is recognizable as London (somewhat in disguise), in an era roughly equivalent to the 18th century (or perhaps the late 17th). The action centers on the personal and professional adventures of the duellist Richard St. Vier, whose career and romantic attachments draw him into a proverbial web of political intrigue and socio-economic conflict. By the time the story reaches its climax, the entire City -- hoi polloi and beau monde alike -- will be embroiled in the events that circle around St. Vier and his emotionally troubled lover.
Kushner assembles a cast of wonderful characters (she particularly succeeds in creating gay heroes who aren't tokens or caricatures). She also brings to her story a complex, textured plot and, equally important, a delightfully wicked prose style just bursting with mordant humor and piquant observations. In fact, I remember when I first heard Kushner on the radio (she currently hosts the "Sound and Spirit" segment on NPR), I barely made the connection. On the air, she sounds like such a kind and nurturing person that it's hard to believe that the same individual could write in a way that's so gleefully decadent and dark in tone.
On the whole, _Swordspoint_ takes the fencing excitement and the political tensions of a book like Sabatini's _Scaramouche_, mixes it with the sexual entanglements of Choderlos de Laclos's _Dangerous Liaisons_, spices it up with the social commentary of an Oscar Wilde... then, as if that weren't enough, adds a quality all its own.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 29 July 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Set in an unnamed city and its criminal suburb, Riverside, "Swordspoint" is a masterpiece, period. The intrigue is dizzying, the characters finely drawn, and the world itself seductive. (A reader's desperate call: A sequel would be appreciated!) There is humor, witty and occasionally mordant, and even romance. More than one reading is required to master all the complexities of the story. When Richard St. Vier, the foremost swordsman in Riverside, takes an assignment from an anonymous noble, it looks as though the job might be fairly simple. Before long, he finds himself caught up in a power play unfolding between the nobles of the City Council: not he, not his lover, and not his past will remain untouched. And that has hardly scratched the surface.
As mentioned earlier, the characters of "Swordspoint" are superbly drawn. Richard and his lover Alec are more like anti-heroes than anything else--one is in effect a hired killer, although not without his own sense of honor, ; the other is acid-tongued and emotionally troubled, at the same time needy and vicious--and yet the author manages to create a startling sympathy for them. Even Alec's morbid obsessions are, in a strange sense, preferable to the refined intrigues of the upper class, the chess players living on "the Hill" who move Richard and the other Riversiders about as though they are mere possessions. Michael Godwin, the young nobleman who takes up swordwork as a bored hobby and finds himself learning in earnest, is a fine counterpoint to Richard's world-weary attitude: for Michael, seeing his teacher before his eyes is traumatic; for Richard, it's only part of a swordsman's life.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By N. Clarke on 28 Mar. 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"Let the fairy-tale begin on a winter's morning, then, with one drop of blood new-fallen on the ivory snow: a drop as bright as a clear-cut ruby, red as the single spot of claret on the lace cuff."
First published in 1987, Ellen Kushner's _Swordspoint_ is a rich example of what SF/F circles sometimes called 'interstitial fiction', a sort of confluence of fantasy with modernism. While a lot of such books plump for modern or near-modern settings, Kushner's glittering world looks a little farther back for its inspiration, if not so far back as most conventional fantasy - to Regency England (broadly speaking). The society is a highly stratified one, according to birth and economic standing (and to some extent by gender, within the classes). This is mirrored in a division of civic space: the noble families (a council from whose number rule the city) live in the elevated reaches of the Hill; everyone else crowds into the alleys and decaying tenements of Riverside. The scope for moving between the two is limited. Riversiders go up to the Hill as servants, while the nobles sometimes slum it in Riverside for insalubrious entertainment and dodgy dealings.
The protagonists, Richard and Alec, are two characters who cross this boundary rather more frequently - if with little greater ease - than most. Richard is a swordsman, in considerable demand among the nobility for duelling 'challenges' (effectively contract killings), and prized for his efficiency and discretion in such matters. Alec, meanwhile, is a (former) student of the University with a noble's demeanour, although he remains cagey about his background. They're also lovers, and live together openly in Riverside, sexuality - at least for men - being one of the few areas in society that is relatively unconstrained.
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