- Series: Riverside (Book 1)
- Mass Market Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Spectra (February 4, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0553585495
- ISBN-13: 978-0553585490
- Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 1 x 6.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (120 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #480,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Swordspoint (Riverside) Mass Market Paperback – February 4, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
In the highly stratified world of Kushner's nameless old city, the aristocrats living in fine mansions on the Hill settle their differences by sending to the thieves' den of Riverside for swordsmen who will fight to the death for a point of someone else's honor. Young Lord Michael Godwin is so taken by these romantic figures that he studies the art himselfuntil challenged by the best of them. Master of the Sword, Richard St. Vier is picky in his contracts and precise in his killing but he nevertheless becomes embroiled in the nobility's political, social and sexual intrigues. When his lover Alec is kidnapped by Lord Horn, St. Vier must take drastic action. Kushner's authorial voice may be somewhat smug and self-conscious but that suits her subject. Her novel is intelligent, humorous and dramatic, with a fine, malicious feeling for the operation of gossip in a closed society.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Mass Market Paperback edition.
“[Kushner] draws you through the story with such lucid, powerful writing that you come to trust her completely--and she doesn’t let you down...Watch this woman--she’s going to be one of the great ones.”
--Orson Scott Card
"There is an element of high romance to Kushner’s work, but it is honed to a bleeding edge by a deep appreciation of what motivates men and women. These are fantasies for adults, with the pang of real love and loss in them, sometimes surprisingly violent, sometimes breathtakingly tender, and sometimes very passionate indeed." --Realms of Fantasy
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Top Customer Reviews
The fantasy setting is a nameless pre-technological city, with districts of elegant estates and gritty slums. Yet Kushner's approach makes this setting unique. She never halts the story or disrupts the atmosphere to explain the workings of the society. Government titles and institutions are noted only when appropriate to the characters' motivations. This isolation from the infrastructure of the society leaves the characters' perceived world -- the areas of the society that they inhabit -- as the dominant face of the setting.
Kushner wrings intense conflict from her constrained setting by cutting to the heart of her characters' motivations. Her portrayal of a Regency-style social scene feels perfect, in both the delicate high society and the gritty low. After a quick first chapter, the novel crawls through slow social scenes with secondary characters whose importance hasn't yet been shown. As such, their lengthy gossip doesn't have any context or meaning at this early stage. Once Richard begins receiving offers for duels, the plot picks up speed. The intrigue gradually ensnares all the previously introduced characters and rushes toward the conclusion. The ending features a clever twist, and all the characters' lives are irrevocably changed.
_Swordspoint_ is a delightfully compact novel, especially by modern fantasy standards. The plot resolution in a single volume is a refreshing change from the recent trend of fantasy duologies, many of which are actually a large manuscript split into two books for publication, and consequently have no resolution at the end of the first book.
Kushner's prose has a few awkward tics that distract from her subtle dialog and lush descriptions. Her dialog tags often carry unnecessary adverbs. She also uses 'Richard' and 'St Vier' interchangeably to refer to the main character, sometimes in the same sentence. However, in dialog she more appropriately picks whichever one of these names represents his relationship to the person speaking -- Alec always calls him Richard, the jailer always calls him St Vier. In addition, the point of view often floats from character to character in the same scene, leaving the reader at a distance, struggling to follow the complex social agenda of each character.
_Swordspoint_ stands as a classic of character-driven fantasy, particularly compared to the bland rehashes of epic fantasy that were also being written in the late 80s. Kushner's novel reads like a forerunner of the recent social intrigue fantasy from authors like Jacqueline Carey, and she deserves credit for this landmark work that pioneered that subgenre.
Kushner takes every predictable Regency/Gothic/Modern Romance cliche and turns it on it's head. The stalwart hero is a master swordsman, a devoted lover...and a complete sociopath. The highborn love of his life is a green-eyed, sultry-voiced beauty...with severe emotional problems and a lot more testosterone than one generally expects in highborn beauties.
The beauty gets kidnapped and manhandled. The hero gets even and then gets lucky. The beauty takes a powder. The hero gets arrested. The beauty has a brief, but memorable, career in politics. The hero gets off and then bows out graciously. The beauty lures him back with fish and chips and...whatever.
I highly recommend this one, and I can't tell you how pleased I am that there's a sequel in the works.
But this isn't London. Instead, it is never named, the capital city of an equally unnamed parliamentary monarchy, and one in which duels over perceived insults are perfectly legal amongst the upper class who live on The Hill, yet actually fought only by lower class swordsmen who serve (and sometimes die) as proxies for their wealthy employers, being paid to duel to defend some wealthy man's affronted sense of honor. These swordsmen are in turn the very crème of society in Riverside, the city's poorest and most crime-ridden slum.
Our protagonists are Alec, a poverty-stricken student who has dropped out of the university and ended up in Riverside, where he is intimately involved with the most brilliant and ruthless swordsman of the era, Richard St.Vier. When wealthy and dissolute Lord Horn has Alec kidnapped and beaten in order to force Master of the Sword St. Vier to fight a duel for him, wheels are set in motion that will destroy lives and shake up the highest echelons of society.
I cannot really say more without giving away too much. The only drawback this book will have for some readers is the open way it deals with the protagonists' homosexuality. The fantasy world of the unnamed city is one in which homosexual relationships are as "normal" as dueling; to read this book with any enjoyment that must be accepted. Our moral norms are not theirs, which is part of what makes this a fantasy and not an historical romance.
Indeed, if it were not for the quality of the writing, discomfort with the protagonist's homosexual relationship, and particularly with its power imbalance, would have made me uncomfortable. Kushner's writing, however, is good enough that I was not merely sucked into the story and world for the 363 pages of the book, I immediately purchased the second Riverside novel. 'The Privilege of the Sword'*, which I liked even better (after which I bought book three, and...).
With the single caveat regarding the characters' sexuality, Highly Recommended.
*With even more buckling of swash!