Fantasy Swordspoint, and The Privilege of the Sword, by Ellen Kushner

Anthony G Williams

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Swordspoint, and The Privilege of the Sword, by Ellen Kushner

Swordspoint(subtitled a Melodrama of Mannersand published in 1987) is one of those books which I read not long after it came out, and enjoyed enough to hang on to my copy ever since. This also prompted me to buy the sequel, The Privilege of the Sword, when it appeared almost twenty years later; it won the 2007 Locus Award for the Best Fantasy Novel. I have, finally, got around to reading PotS, and that prompted me to pick up SaMoM for a second read.

Swordspoint is set in a fantasy world which is loosely equivalent, socially and technologically, to the late Renaissance period in Europe; duelling with swords is not just legal but is the accepted way of settling disputes among the ruling class; however, they don't normally fight themselves – they hire professional swordsmen to represent them. One such, and the most famous of them all, is the young Richard St Vier. The story follows his unwilling involvement in the plots of scheming nobles while maintaining a turbulent relationship with Alec, a former student. The city setting is richly portrayed; the rough, dangerous and colourful old Riverside area contrasting with the civilised Hill where the nobility live. St Vier ends up facing a very different kind of fight in a climactic scene of political struggle at a full meeting of the nobility.

There may have been a considerable gap before The Privilege of the Sword emerged, but it's a slightly lesser one in "fiction time", as it is set fifteen years after the events in SaMoM. We meet again some of the characters from the first novel, but the focus is on a new young heroine, Katherine, from a poor, country branch of one of the noble families. We follow her progress as she fights – literally – to establish herself both in high society and in Riverside. I found this a more enjoyable tale than SaMoM, Katherine being an engaging character it is easy to support and identify with (regardless of gender!). Together, these two novels make a notable contribution to the more thoughtful and intelligent end of the fantasy spectrum, and are well worth seeking out.


This is not the end of the stories with the same setting. The Fall of the Kings (co-authored with Delia Sherman, and based on an earlier novella with the same title) was published in 2002 but is set a generation after the events in SaMoM and PotS. I gather from decidedly mixed reviews that it doesn't bear much relationship to the earlier works. In addition, there have been various short stories collectively known as the Riverside series, and in 2015 Kushner created the Tremontainecollaborative series, consisting so far of two "seasons" (E-books and audiobooks only) of stories written by a range of different authors but all set in a period before SaMoM.


(This entry is cross-posted from my science-fiction & fantasy blog.)
 
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