Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner

This story has so much panache. In this quintessential fantasy of manners tale (Ellen Kushner came up with the expression to define the subgenre, after all), nobility sips hot chocolate and plots the downfall of political rivals, while occasionally throwing a hired swordsman into the mix to do their dirty, bloody work. Richard St. Vier is the best swordsman of his generation. In Riverside, where rogues and thieves impose their unchallenged law, he lives with his young lover, Alec, a mysterious university student. St. Vier soon finds himself unwillingly involved in the political manoeuvrings of the nobility.

We follow quite a few characters, noblemen and women, as well as Riverside people. The book focuses mainly on Richard and Alec. I was frustrated with their romance at first; Alec has a self-destructive streak that often endangers Richard’s life. But it changed once I got to better understand the dynamic of their relationship. In general, Alec is difficult to like but he’s an entertaining character, if that makes sense. It’s hard to understand him; his behaviour is erratic and dangerous. But his snark and charisma, as well as the carefully hidden emotional scars, won me over. Richard is less complex — he has a very straightforward and refreshing attitude, with a satisfying ruthlessness when he’s crossed. I also enjoyed following Diane, the Duchess Tremontaine, a powerful player in the political games.

Swordspoint was my very first audiobook, and the quality of the production played an important part in my enjoyment of the book. It uses an ensemble cast and sound effects, something that can be a miss for a few people (Tam finds it distracting), but it helped anchor my wandering attention to the scenes. The story lends itself amazingly well to the audiobook format: while there is an overreaching plot, it can be read (or listened to) through small, “serialised” doses.

There are no traditional fantasy elements in the book — except that the universe the events take place in is made-up. So no magic, no strange creatures, no Tolkien races; “only” a story of political plotting and sword play. And amusing banter. And a casual, laid-back approach to bisexuality. And characters with plenty of flair. I had so much fun listening to it, it’s witty, dashing and brilliantly written and narrated. There are other books in the Riverside series, but Swordspoint can be read as a standalone. I would absolutely recommend you give the audiobook version a try!

9 comments

  1. Well, I’m always up for a character who snarks to cover up their gaping wounds, so am quite keen to try this out! Also, if you like full cast audio books, I’d recommend giving his dark materials a go? One of the best audio books I have ever listened to, hand on heart. Fantastic review, and I really love this blog you + your fellow writers have going here

    Liked by 1 person

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