I had never heard of the work of Ellen Kushner before discovering Swordspoint through the Vaginal Fantasy book club. The other pick for June was Tripping the Velvet, which I knew didn’t have any fantasy elements, so I went with this tale about a master swordsman. Also, George R.R. Martin vouching for it seemed promising.
The swordsman in question is Richard St. Vier who takes his work & matters of honor quite seriously. He may be a sword for hire, but he is careful whom he fights. He strives to ensure the fight will be clean and legal. All in Riverside, the dangerous part of town, know and respect him. His lover, Alec, the drunken university drop out is merely tolerated by his association with St. Vier. They spend the days boozing and gambling away all the coin from Richard’s fights without a care in the world. That is until they become caught up unwittingly in a power struggle and more than a few secret love triangles amongst the nobles of the kingdom. Events escalate and Richard’s honor is in question after killing one of the nobleman (who really had it coming). He could had let the offence go, but that really isn’t the way of a true man of the sword apparently.
I really enjoyed the main characters – Richard and Alec. Kushner didn’t make a big deal out of the homosexual relationship. They simply were together without question, no melodrama. And it wasn’t just them, many characters had sexual appetites for both sexes. My main gripe was the she spent page upon page outlining the power structure and intricate relationships between the nobles. It bored me to tears. I even gave up on the book 3x, only reading halfway in time for my book club meeting. I expected lots of swordplay thrills. Instead, the action played out in double entendres in public and machinations behind closed doors. And in the end, Richard’s strict code seemed to get him into more trouble. He could have explained the full situation and probably saved himself in a manner of minutes. But he was stubborn and refused to detail events as he would have to reveal who he was working for, which is against his rules.
All in all, I’m glad I finished the book. The two accompanying short stories were fantastic giving further background on Richard and Alec. I would recommend this book for fans of this ‘mannerpunk’ genre (definition below) and books focused on Machiavellian power struggles. However, I think I’m more of a fan of action & mystery oriented tales.
Mannerpunk is the fantasy genre’s arena for the comedy of manners. Its worlds involve elaborately complex social hierarchies, and its plots revolve around its characters’ interactions within those hierarchies in the traditions of Jane Austen or Anthony Hope.
If you’re so inclined, feel free to check my writing and musings on my blog.