Book review of Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint
Reaching back into my “books recommended by GRRM to enjoy while he finishes writing book 5 of ASOIAF” grab-bag, this time I pulled out Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Its a novel originally published in paperback in 1989, and the paperback version I found in my hands has a quote from the Wonder of Winterfell himself, which is placed higher on the cover and is actually larger than the book title. I can tell you that I’m glad that when Swordspoint was republished in 2003, it was done so with a recommendation from the then and still reigning king of fantasy epics, which resulted in Martin suggesting it on his personal blog. Also making me smile was the discovery that Kushner penned many of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books I read as a child, so I had a feeling I was in for a real treat.
Martin is absolutely correct when he says “Swordspoint has an unforgettable opening…and just gets better from there”. The novel is a prime example of dialog for aspiring writers, as I cover in my guest post over at Drying Ink. Kushner has a natural talent for dialog, and here she turns the dialog dial to full tilt. The conversation is masterful, branding Swordspoint as an instant fantasy classic. While the paperback edition comes in at 286 pages, which is rather light these days, you can be guaranteed that it is no less of a novel than some 7- and 800 pagers. Suffice to say that Kushner has a knack of not rambling, and the written word in Swordspoint is as succinct as the dance of the swordsmen themselves.
A delicate dance it is indeed. Richard St Vier is a swordsman for hire, doing jobs for the wealthy in the unnamed city where the novel takes place. The nobles of the city settle their disputes with arms for hire, and Richard is one of the premier swordsman in the city, if not the best. While Richard does not have a flair for the aristocratic lifestyle, his companion Alec does. This creates a wonderful balance as they find themselves in many a precarious situation.
Some of the action scenes in this novel are unforgettable, but it really is the world that stays with you. The combination of Kushner’s flawless ability with dialog and the story of living by the sword just to get by in an urban landscape is what quickly picks you up and places you firmly in your place, right alongside Richard and Alec as they make their way through every day life.
I should mention that this novel does contain some fairly graphic sex scenes, which may not be of taste for some readers, so parents, you’ve been warned. The version I’ve got contains three additional short stories involving both Richard and Alec, written before and after Swordspoint.
This is a fantasy classic, and a world I’m sure to continue exploring with the subsequent novels in the series. You can pick up the highly recommended Swordspoint over at Amazon.com.