the Little Red Reviewer

these are a few of my favorite things. . .

Posted on: June 7, 2011

Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner

published in 2003

where I got it: library

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Quite often I’ll run into a review where someone finds a book “effortless”.  I never really knew what that meant, until now. Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, a story that is both a typical fantasy and as far from typical as one can get is a book that doesn’t feel like a book. I don’t know how else to explain it.  I would pick Swordspoint up planning to only read for a half hour or so, the next thing I knew two hours had gone by and I was half finished with it, to my dismay leaving less and less of it remaining for me to enjoy. Even in the scenes where death is quite completely on the line, where Richard is fighting for his life or for Alec’s, when Alec is desperately trying to slowly kill himself through drink, drugs or stupidity, the story feels light, readable, addictive: absolutely effortless.  With a plotline that’s easy to get into, and brimming with all my favorite guilty pleasures: swordplay, banter, revenge, and sensuality, Swordspoint is truly unforgettable.

When the nobles of The Hill have scores (both petty and serious) to settle, they contract with professional swordsmen. Why should a noble fight their own duel, when there is scum down in Riverside happy to do it for coin? The best swordsman of his time, Richard St. Vier, is smart enough to only take on patrons who are wealthy and discreet. Completely at peace with the life he has chosen, Richard hopes one day to meet his equal and die by a clean stroke through the heart, rather than retire to earn a pittance as an honor guard at a wedding.

There are a handful of interwoven plot lines, most focusing on the gossip on The Hill and political maneuvers by this noble or that one to take over the city, but the most important subplot is the one that seems the pettiest at first. When a jilted noble finds Richard’s completion of a contract unacceptable, he gives Richard no choice but to make good on the local phrase that “all swordsmen are crazy”.   Richard won’t be blackmailed, and he won’t allow anyone to harm Alec. It’s really that simple.  When said jilted noble is found dead, it’s a matter of hours before the city turns on it’s favorite professional assassin.

Richard may be the main character, but for me it was Alec who stole every scene he was in. I admit it, I have a weakness for the handsome yet flawed gentleman, and the handsomer and the flawed-er, the better. Obsessed with his fervent need to escape his past, Alec arrived in Riverside with a death wish. Looking for a fight, He won’t tell anyone who he really is, but with his provincial accent and tattered scholars robes, it’s obvious he the child of someone wealthy. But Alec doesn’t care for wealth or nobility. All he cares for is Richard.  They have an incredible relationship, Richard and Alec. A relationship so intensely perfect, yet as fragile as a butterfly’s wings.  I am at a loss for words to describe it.

To be obscure, If this was a Shojo manga, it would outsell Ai Yazawa’s Nana, and it would be filed under Yaoi.

But to be blunt, In this city, the gender of your lover isn’t an issue.  People will most certainly judge you on the class and lineage of your partner, but never on their gender.  For that reason alone, for all the male/male sex and sensuality, I expect some people are saying to themselves right now “Wow, that is SO not for me”.  That’s okay.  I’d put out a call through Twitter that I was looking for GLBT scifi / fantasy, and Swordspoint came recommended. Turns out Swordspoint is quite the GLBT fantasy action story. It’s also some of the best writing I’ve ever come across.

I laugh at the romance novels at the bookstore. I’ve read a few in my time, they didn’t do much for me.  Call me a hypocrite, but I do have a huge appreciation for romance. Just not the heaving bosom, Fabio dude on the cover, shallow plot line romance.  I mean Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon romance,  Last of the Mohicans romance, where love means being honest with yourself about what you are willing to sacrifice to save someone else. And then doing it.  Swordspoint is that kind of romance.

I feel like I’m doing a horrible job of reviewing this book. I’ve made it sound like a cheesy romance. Yes, there is romance, and yes there are sex scenes. But it isn’t cheesy and it isn’t dirty.  The only dirty in this book is on the floor of the damn taverns.  There’s a reason the first six pages of the paperback are plastered with praise for the novel.

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5 Responses to "these are a few of my favorite things. . ."

Glad you enjoyed it! I think your review did a great job representing the book. Makes me want to go reread it. Sharing the following in case you don’t know: THE FALL OF THE KINGS, written with Delia Sherman (Kushner’s partner), is a prequel; THE PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD is a follow-up, and has more of Alec. I enjoyed the latter and haven’t read the former yet.

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Hi Molly! Fall of The Kings is mentioned in the edition I got of Swordspoint, but the way it’s referred to I couldn’t tell if it was a sequel, or even in the same universe. Nice to know all those titles are connected, and that I get to have some more Alec adventures. ;)

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[...] Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner published in 2003 where I got it: library . . .   . . . . . . . . Quite often I’ll run into a review where someone finds a book “effortless”.  I never really knew what that meant, until now. Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, a story that is both a typical fantasy and as far from typical as one can get is a book that doesn’t feel like a book. I don’t know how else to explain it.  I would pick Swordspoint up planning t … Read More [...]

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[...] Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, (2003) Light, readable, addictive: absolutely effortless.  With a plotline that’s easy to get into, and brimming with all my favorite guilty pleasures: swordplay, banter, revenge, and sensuality, Swordspoint is truly unforgettable. [...]

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[…] Reviews: Good Books & Good Wine, The Little Red Reviewer, Nerfreader, Stella Matutina, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine. Have you reviewed this […]

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