Plot: Riverside is a part of the city even the guard fears to visit, where a man lives and dies by the sword. Richard St Vier is the most skilled and ruthless of these swordsmen. The aristocracy of the Hill will pay almost anything to have him champion them in their duel challenges, be it simply for entertainment or for political gain. But as the election of the Crescent Chancellor approaches, St Vier finds himself caught up in two commissions that may put both his life and that of his mysterious lover, Alec, at great risk.
Swordspoint is an old favorite of mine so when I heard about the new audiobook edition, narrated by Kushner herself, I could not resist.
I wasn’t disappointed. I already knew that I loved the story but Kushner is a wonderful, expressive narrator. Listening, rather than reading, brought the beautiful lyricism of the language to light. As if that weren’t enough, several key scenes are performed with a full cast to great effect. Some might find the sound effects that peppered the script distracting but I thought they added nicely to the atmosphere.
And the story! Swordspoint is an example of my absolute favorite kind of fantasy, what Kushner calls a melodrama of manners. It is full of swords fights, flirtation and delicious political intrigue. I knew all the secrets that were being hidden, having read the book before, but it was no less enjoyable for it. Because it is not the secrets themselves – who is sleeping with whom, who is related to whom, who is trying to kill who and how – that captivate me but the ways in which the characters plot and manipulate to achieve their ends. These characters are clever, or think they are, and all have their own motivations, some of which are far from evident until the end.
Best of all are St Vier and Alec. Their’s is a curious romance between two very different men. Alec’s sharp intellect, biting wit and near suicidal pleasure in picking fights could make him hard to like, especially, one might think by a reserved man like Richard St Vier. But seen through St Vier’s eyes he seems lovely, mysterious, fragile and, even to a man accustomed to killing, thrillingly dangerous. The way they defend each other, without the slightest hesitation, regardless of the cost to themselves is a touching demonstration of their love.
Alec and Richard’s romance would have been enough for me, even without the intricate plot, immersive world and fascinating intrigue. But it is not the only romance in the book. I would feel remiss in not mentioning the Crescent Chancelor Basil and his wife Mary, little though they appear. Their quiet, loving partenership was also beautiful to me; it’s the kind of love I don’t see enough of in fiction.
Oh, I want to go re-read the companion book, The Privelege of the Sword, right now. Who needs sleep?
Neil Gaiman fans will probably also enjoy the author’s introduction to the book. Swordspoint is only one of several audiobooks chosen by Gaiman for his new collection. I haven’t tried any of the others but if I can expect similar quality, I may.