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Review: Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner

>>Monday, October 11, 2010

Title: Swordspoint
Author: Ellen Kushner
Pages: 329
Genre: Fantasy, LGBT
Publication Date: February 4, 2003 (originally 1987)
Rating: B+

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...

After finishing the book, which I really enjoyed, I started to wonder what exactly made this book fantasy. I think there were some suggestions of magic but I cannot be too sure. Other than that I felt that there wasn't much else of the bread-and-butter of fantasy elements. But this isn't a bad thing, for sure because I thought Swordspoint was a great read and I'll tell you why.

In Swordspoint, Kushner creates an unnamed city where the nobles and aristocrats live on the Hill and the underbelly of society live down in Riverside. In this world there are swordsman who are often hired by nobles to challenge their peers to duels. Nobles can also hire a sword to accept a challenge; it's a very well oiled system. Swordsman, who are of the lower class, can become celebrities based on their success and skill. They can make appearances at weddings and birthdays. They really fill the niche of a needed commodity in this city since nobles are never taught to fight or defend themselves.

The characters in this book really made it for me. There is a large cast with Richard St. Vier, the master swordsman, at the head. His lover, Alec, is scholar with a mysterious past and self-destructive tendencies. I really liked Alec and Richard's dynamic; they often clash because of their different personalities. The romance between them is also a good part of the story; I really felt like I wanted them to succeed while not feeling overly bombarded with heavy romance. Another character I liked was Michael Godwin, a noble who is inspired to learn the sword despite societal constraints on nobles doing such a lowly thing. One thing that bothered me was that his story seemed to drop off into nowhere by the end of the book. What happened to him? I wonder if he reappears in other books set in Riverside.

Like I mentioned earlier, there is really any magic or fantastical elements other than the fictional city in this story. I found it reminded me of a historical fiction book with all the politicking and intrigue between the nobles (which I really enjoy). The story has a bit of mystery to it and it all revealed in a very climactic scene in the end to which I was riveted.

Overall, I definitely recommend this book to people who like political intrigue and light fantasy or LGBT fantasy. If you are looking for something full of magic and quests then this isn't for you. Swordspoint is followed by other books set in the same city called The Fall of Kings and The Priviledge of the Sword which I will definitely be reading. B+

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