I’m kind of on the fence about Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. On the one hand, it breaks pretty new ground TO me in that a gay relationship is front and center in the book. On the other hand, the audiobook starts off pretty well done and interesting with all the different voices reading, but then I just found the sound effects to be a little too much. Yet, as far as being a comedy of manners, I think that Swordspoint succeeds, at least during the parts that I didn’t tune out.
Set in Riverside, Swordspoint is not your typical fantasy book. There is no war. There is no evil force waiting to be defeated. Instead, Ellen Kushner’s book is all about the machinations of the nobles. You see, people work their problems and issues out by dueling. Well, the nobles hire swordmasters to duel for them. Richard St. Vier is the best of all the swords masters. One day, he wins a duel and kills another dude, but instead of people being pumped up over it, they are totally pissed off. So then, Richard’s lover Alec gets kidnapped by Lord Horn as a result and so Richard has to do something to get Alec back. Thus lies the crux of Swordspoint.
I kind of feel like I am not as well read as I think I am, because I have NEVER read an adult fantasy before with gay main characters and I totally need to correct that. The cool thing is that even though this was written in the 80s, Richard St. Vier and Alec just happen to be gay. Like, being gay is not their entire personality but a facet. I liked that they were pretty realized characters with strengths and weaknesses and interests. St. Vier is never the stereotypical gay man and I LOVE that. Who knew such an old book could be so progressive? I did like the romance, although hahaha I was listening to Swordspoint at work when it started to get a little heated, and that was a bit embarrassing, but I get embarrassed when ANY audiobook I listen to takes a sexy turn and I’m in my office and not in the privacy of my car or gym.
Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint is tightly paced. Sure, there is SOME meandering, but it’s interesting meandering, ya know? Like if you dig Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer and like reading about polite society, then you’ll dig it. You won’t be like ahhhh I AM SO BORED. At least, I was never all like AHHH I AM SO BORED WITH THESE PEOPLE AND THEIR CONVENTIONS. I was like, whoo-hoo what happens when people stop being polite and start getting REAL. So, yeah interest levels may vary.
I’ve definitely got FEELINGS about the audiobook. It’s one of those ‘A Neil Gaiman Production‘ audiobooks, meaning that the production quality is pretty high. The cast is stellar. Ellen Kushner is the main narrator. Then for each of the characters there is a different narrator. The other narrators are Dion Graham, Katherine Kellgren, Robert Fass, Nick Sullivan, and Simon Jones. The only narrator that I recognized was Katherine Kellgren and I have to say, she really excelled at her parts. As for the other narrators, I thought they did a fabulous job portraying the snooty nobles.
However, there were also sound effects. At first, I was like oh these are SO cool, I love this. But then, they just really took me out of the story and much like TV, I started to tune it out automatically. Like, there’s a few scenes with a cat and every time the cat was mentioned there was this meowing effect but it was SO annoying. I thought it was a little gimmicky. Swordspoint is 10 hours and 54 minutes unabridged. Granted, I still have book 2, The Privilege Of The Sword in my audible wishlist, but that’s because Felicia Day is one of the narrators and I CANNOT RESIST.
Disclosure: Purchased copy
Other reviews of Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner:
This Fleeting Dream – “really enjoyable, and beautifully written”
The Review Diaries – “for all my complaints, it is a brilliant book, and engaging world”