Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review: Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner

Photo by kablis

Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Mannersis a fantasy (of manners) novel set in a capital city and the almost-lawless Riverside district nearby. Neither the city nor the country are named, but the world is very different from our own. This society doesn’t have any modern technology, but they have strict laws, and a police force of sorts. The country is run by nobles, Lords and Dukes who see themselves as superior to the ordinary people. The nobles live decadent lifestyles under different laws – they go to parties, gossip, and when they quarrel they hire swordsmen to fight on their behalf, often to the death.

One such swordsman is Richard St Vier, the main protagonist of the novel, who lives in Riverside with his lover Alec. St Vier is the greatest of all swordsmen, and sought-after by the nobles. He can even, controversially, pick and choose who he wants to fight. He and Alec live as comfortably as people can in Riverside, drinking and gambling until the money runs out and St Vier needs to fight again. But this comes to an end when they get mixed up in the political plots of the nobles, who wish to use Richard to advance their own goals.

The world of Swordspoint does not have a strict moral code, some characters have tighter ethics than others, and every one is a product of the difficult, often brutal society they have been brought up in. I found all the characters very interesting, and although I wanted to know about some of them more than the others, they were all shrouded in enough mystery to keep me guessing and reading on. The characters were very believable. Although most of them didn’t develop over the course of the novel, they stayed pretty much the same; it didn’t matter because there was so much going on. The reader never gets to be ahead of the characters – so I was constantly trying to predict what was going to be revealed about who next. The story is written in third person, and follows several different characters at different times. Though the narrator doesn't seem to be a character, it has a very distinct style.

Swordspoint is quite a long book, and it took me a couple of weeks to finish it. This might be why I felt that it was over a bit too soon. It seemed to me as if the author spent a lot of time building up all this detail about the world and the characters only for the plot to turn out to be quite simple (though not predictable) and for the story to finish quite quickly. I also felt that one character, after having quite a large role in the narrative was just dropped, and it was disappointing that we didn’t get to see more of them.

However, the novel was really enjoyable, and beautifully written, with just the right amount of descriptive detail, in my opinion. I’m quite fussy about description, I need it to flesh out the world of the story and imagine it properly, but I don’t want so much that I don’t have any room to put my own spin on the way things look, and have to struggle to hold it all in my head. I love reading books that feature characters that live glamourous lives in an old fashioned way, and so I had a lot of fun reading Swordspoint

I am looking forward to reading the sequels to Swordspoint; The Fall of the Kings, and The Privilege of the Sword. I first heard of these books when I read Rie’s review of The Privilege of the Sword at Leaving Shangri-La.

The BookDepository


  1. Privilege of the Sword is next chronologically, and a much stronger, more elegantly written book--and considering that Swordspoint is quite nice in and of itself, that's saying something. I think you'll enjoy it. :D Fall of the Kings is on my to-be-read pile.

  2. Oh, Rie, you've made me look forward even more to reading Privilege of the Sword. It was already one of the few books that I'm considering cheating on my no-buy to get!



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