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If you like non-supernatural fantasies with lots of sword fighting (most with words, some with swords), witty dialogue, vivid descriptions, charismatic characters, explorations of power, politics, and honor, you should give Ellen Kushner???s Swordspoint a try. (It even features a perfect parody of a Jacobethan revenge tragedy.)
The setting of Swordspoint is an Elizabethan or Jacobean-like city comprised of the Hill, atop which the power-scheming and pleasure-partying nobles live their lives of privilege, and Riverside, the lower district of derelict mansions where the riffraff (rogues, whores, pickpockets, and swordsmen, professional duelist-assassin-bodyguards who sell their swords to aristocratic contracts) live their sordid lives.
Kushner creates appealing and flawed characters, among them Richard, an illiterate, intelligent, usually self-possessed swordsman, Alec, an aristocratic, sardonic, occasionally suicidal ex-scholar, and Michael, a callow gigolo Lord who wants to be taken seriously. Their intertwining stories are absorbing and unpredictable. All of her characters feel like real people, with pasts and ambitions, loves and hates. And gird your loins for a seductively human and frank (though never sensational or graphic) homosexual romance.
About the ???illuminated??? audiobook (with author Kushner reading everything, except for certain intense scenes for which different readers read different characters??? voices, and with some sound effects being used for things like doors opening, footsteps sounding, swords clashing, and fires burning, etc.), I liked it, but that may be due to my liking Swordspoint. That is, I wish Kushner had read everything without sound effects OR a cast of readers had read everything with sound effects, but I like the novel and various readers so much that I enjoyed the audiobook. And the music used to introduce or conclude intense scenes or chapters was well done.
Neil Gaiman describes Swordspoint as being what Jane Austen would write if she wrote fantasy, but Kushner???s worldview is more violent and morally ambiguous, her interests more political, and her writing more modern than Austen???s. But it is interesting to imagine Lord Darcy and Henry Tilney falling in love with each other rather than with Elizabeth Bennet and Catherine Morland!
36 of 38 people found this review helpful
What did you like about this audiobook?
Ellen Kushner owes me gas money! I made the mistake of putting this on my ipod to listen to on my commute back from work and I got so wrapped up in the story that not only did I miss my exit, but I drove in large consecutive circles around my city for over an hour. So wrapped up was I that pulling over didn't even cross my mind, in fact the only thing that brought me back to reality was the dinging sound my gas tank makes when it got low. Then I made a bee line for home to go and grab my head phones since I didn't even want to waste time going to the gas station.
Kushner is a rare author who has been blessed with the ability to deftly and engangingly read from her own work, something most authors, as I'm sure audible members can attest to, are not not blessed with. The story is deft, courageous, adventurous, dark and erotic. Really there's nothing more that I can say about it that so many other have already articulated in a much better fashion that I.
All I can say is thank you so much to both Mr Gaiman and, debts not withstanding, to Mrs, Kushner for putting this out there. This is what books should always be like and seldom are. From now on I'll make sure to keep an eye out for whatever these two put out in the future.
56 of 61 people found this review helpful
I LOVED this book. A fully realized fantasy world without some kind of magic is quite a novelty and this really works. The differences between the rich and poor societies are carefully drawn and totally believable. Most of the characters are quite world-weary and louche - I especially enjoyed the Duchess of Tremontaine who was rather reminiscent of the Marquise de Merteuil in Les Liasons Dangereuse (no idea if I spelt that lot right). It's refreshing, too, that everyone has a fluid sexuality - you love who you love and it doesn't matter what gender they are.
Ellen Kushner narrates her own story very well and I think the partial dramatization and use of sound effects does help to draw you into the world. It's a really interesting approach to audio books and one that I hope to hear more often. I'm currently imagining how awesome this would be for Patrick Rothfuss's books.
I am definitely going to get the next book in the series.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Interesting narration/dramatisation of a novel I hadn't come across before. I enjoyed the mirrored dance of manners, intrigue, swordplay and personal relationships. Something a little different for jaded palates.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Not my cup of tea. For me, this has been a pointless A pointless exercise . I endured it, hoping for some redemption to the boredom . I lost concentration so many times.
I loved the small scope of this story, so bound up in the many levels of society in one town. It creates a very intimate setting, full of depth, tradition and conniving. The only odd this was that occasionally the characters would be voiced by different actors and other times just voiced by the narrator. The inconsistency really distracted me out of the story. Other than that it was a great story.