“Every man lives at swordspoint.” – Ellen Kushner
I discovered Kushner’s book at the discussion concerning transgression in novels at Book Culture. (The same one C.S. Pacat was at!) She was the moderator, and one hell of a smart woman. It was a pleasure to listen to her writing process, and an even bigger pleasure to read Swordspoint.
Like most early novels in a writer’s career, there are pros and cons to the storytelling. As many of the writers in Kushner’s panel repeated over and over, writing takes huge amounts of practice even after an author has been published. Kushner’s first novel, containing the fantasy worlds of Riverside and the Hill, are not excluded from that rule.
There are two worlds living side by side: the low-life, dangerous scum and swords for hire live in the decrepit Riverside, while the rich and respectable nobles reside on the Hill. Swordsman are welcome around the nobles when they are hired to settle disputes between the powerful on Hill, and the most popular among the hired help is the young Richard St. Vier.
The novel starts strong with a man dashing away from the scene of a double murder. We quickly meet a cast of important politicians, easily offended nobles, and lively rif-raf. As if St. Vier’s lover isn’t enough to handle, he also has to try hard to stay away from the drama and politics of the Hill. Unfortunately, the highly sought out swordsman is unsuccessful.
The story in itself is intriguing. It would appear to have that old world charm of swordsmen and chancellors, but where it falls flat is intertwining revelations. The language is very passive, making the climatic parts lack excitement. If you are expecting the twist and turns often involved with political dramas, you will be disappointed. However, if you are a lover of all forms of fantasy novels, I highly recommend the book with that disclaimer. It was overall an enjoyable read, even though it missed some razzle-dazzle.