Review – Swordspoint

Swordspoint (Riverside No.1) – Ellen Kushner

Bantam Spectra, 2003

Originally published in 1987

In the city, the business of politics is carried out over chocolate, under fireworks, at dinner parties – but underneath the civilised banter lies a cut-throat reality. The nobility crush their rivals and take revenge through their proxies, the swordsmen, and no swordsman is more sought after than the famous Richard St. Vier. He lives in the squalid district of Riverside with his lover Alec, a fiercely argumentative young scholar, and keeps his distance from the quarrels on the Hill, even as he risks his life for them. Some acts of vengeance, however, go deeper than any sword.

It isn’t easy to write a blurb for this book. Having read the second one in the series first, The Privilege of the Sword, I had a vague idea of how this story would go, but the blurb on the back was so terrible it gave away pretty much the entire plot, so I advise avoiding any summaries for Swordspoint altogether. Richard and Alec are both abrasive, morally dubious characters whose relationship is very confusing even to themselves; in other hands this would have been quite a grim story, but Ellen Kushner has a delightfully dry, witty style and a gorgeous way with words. I found that Swordspoint is particularly suited to reading aloud. This copy also includes three short stories about Richard and Alec, which continue to flesh out the rich setting of the city. I will definitely be reading the third book in this series, The Fall of the Kings.

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