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Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners Mass Market Paperback – 1 Jan 2003
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" [Kushner] draws you through the story with such lucid, powerful writing that you come to trust her completely--and she doesn' t let you down...Watch this woman--she' s going to be one of the great ones."
--Orson Scott Card
"[Kushner] draws you through the story with such lucid, powerful writing that you come to trust her completely--and she doesn't let you down...Watch this woman--she's going to be one of the great ones."
--Orson Scott Card
"There is an element of high romance to Kushner's work, but it is honed to a bleeding edge by a deep appreciation of what motivates men and women. These are fantasies for adults, with the pang of real love and loss in them, sometimes surprisingly violent, sometimes breathtakingly tender, and sometimes very passionate indeed." --Realms of Fantasy
[Kushner] draws you through the story with such lucid, powerful writing that you come to trust her completely--and she doesn t let you down...Watch this woman--she s going to be one of the great ones.
--Orson Scott Card
"There is an element of high romance to Kushner s work, but it is honed to a bleeding edge by a deep appreciation of what motivates men and women. These are fantasies for adults, with the pang of real love and loss in them, sometimes surprisingly violent, sometimes breathtakingly tender, and sometimes very passionate indeed." --Realms of Fantasy"
-[Kushner] draws you through the story with such lucid, powerful writing that you come to trust her completely--and she doesn't let you down...Watch this woman--she's going to be one of the great ones.-
--Orson Scott Card
-There is an element of high romance to Kushner's work, but it is honed to a bleeding edge by a deep appreciation of what motivates men and women. These are fantasies for adults, with the pang of real love and loss in them, sometimes surprisingly violent, sometimes breathtakingly tender, and sometimes very passionate indeed.- --Realms of Fantasy
Award-winning author Ellen Kushner's classic of modern fantasy, set in a world of unforgettable characters whose political ambitions, passionate love affairs and age-old rivalries collide with deadly results. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
_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. _Swordspoint_ is entertainment with depth; I wish more fantasy -- even more contemporary literature in general -- were written like this. It would make me (and I bet a whole lot of other readers) very happy if Kushner wrote some sequels set in the same City, populated by the same heroes. I suppose we can only hope....
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.
Their relationship is a complex joy of fierce mutual dependence and deep tenderness. Both men by turns stimulate and temper each others' worst traits and excesses. Alec is the perfect object for Richard's damaged sense of honour; someone whom he can both protect and be seen to protect through the very public means of challenging (and frequently killing) anyone who threatens his partner. Alec gives his life purpose and joy, holding him back from being simply an emotionless murderer-for-hire. Protecting him also helps Richard to assuage old guilt; we learn in passing that Richard killed an old lover, Jessamyn, in a violent quarrel. Alec, meanwhile, thrills to Richard's violence on his behalf, often deliberately provoking people into such situations. At the same time, however, his self-destructive tendencies leave him half-hoping that eventually he will find someone from whom Richard cannot protect him. Alec is a witty, urbane physical coward, learning the ways of a world quite alien to him through his life with Richard - and helping his partner to negotiate the more dangerous reaches of the world he knows, that of the politicking on the Hill.
Violence is, as may be imagined, a fact of everyday life in this society. It is deeply unwise to walk around alone at night (which is, of course, why Alec does it); bystanders instantly and callously wager upon any conflict that looks set to end in a fight; entertainment is found in cock-fighting and the like. This mindset extends to mortality: personal honour on the Hill is built around the legalised brutality of the challenge system, while tavern disputes in Riverside are settled on a first-body-on-the-floor basis. In both cases, questions are rarely asked, and the immediacy and ever-present nature of the violence naturally strips it of much of the shock for participants and witnesses - but not so for the average reader. In this, the novel achieves that sense of dislocation and otherness that is (or should be, done properly) common to both fantasy and historical fiction - an encounter with a subtly different sensibility and worldview.
The book isn't without its bumps and flaws. The dialogue sometimes veers into the melodramatic (although, given the book's subtitle, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised), often shouldering a burden of emotional expression that ought to be shared to a greater degree by body language and viewpoint narrative. (The latter suffers mostly, I think, from Kushner's determination to keep secret impending plot twists). There are times when it feels as if Kushner struggles to make it hold together as a novel; the short-story origins of much of the material are quite plain in places. The pacing can be choppy, with characters and storylines frequently disappearing for long periods. The structure especially falters towards the overly-talky, too-many-revelations climax.
On the whole, then, it's a beautiful first novel with all a first novel's shakiness. Swordspoint gives us memorable characters in a rich world - I loved the fireworks displays, the unseasonable outdoor parties, the dicing, the torch-hiring, the relationships - couched in elegant prose and some very witty dialogue exchanges.
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Many reviewers have pointed out this to be rather a Regency novel than a fantasy and they are quite right: there...Read more