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I love mustelid haberdashery, vinho verde wine, and wensleydale with fruit.

Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners - Ellen Kushner

If I could sum this book up in one statement, it is:
This is one of those books I could discuss often and probably change my mind about very easily.

Isn't it funny how you get around to reading some books by accident?    I picked up the sequel to Swordspoint during an Audible sale.   I was excited to get to it, because Neil Gaiman produced? Helped to produce? it.   Neil is an excellent audiobook narrator and an audiobook afficionado, which I find kind of awesome, and he is helping to bring some of his favorites to audiobook.

So I picked up this book, Gaiman junkie that I am, and during the introduction, he drops that this is the second in the Riverside series, so back to Audible I go to get this.

And I listened.
It's not my preferred style of audiobook, with multiple narrators.   I'm a little peeved that the multiple narrators are not used throughout the book, but only during passages  deemed important or those with heightened tension.   You have Kushner giving the audiobook it's "regular" read for most of the book (and she is good), but then the characters have their own voices.  It's just... odd.   And I don't like the sound effects (swords clashing, walking, horses, shouting).   I eventually got used to it, but I would not recommend this book in this format.


Onto the actual substance of the book - I don't think this is fantasy, strictly speaking.  It's much more historical fiction/romance set in an imaginary time & place.   There's no magic or anything otherwordly that distracts from the main story line.

We have the set up of the nobleman/aristocracy who run an unnamed City and the people who live in it.    One of the main characters, Richard, is a swordsman, which nobles will hire out to duel, challenge others on honor, be honor guards for weddings, etc.

Richard is living in the poorest area of the city with his lover, Alec.   He is engaged by noblemen to do different killings/duels.

The other part of the story line is the shenanigans of the noblemen and their maneuvering around the political and social sphere.


The world building was really good.  The writing was solid and very easy to follow.   I can't say that I just adored this book, but I was interested in it, and the political machinations of the characters and how Richard was caught up in it, but I was not interested in any of the characters (well, except maybe the Duchess).    Richard is a sociopath who is in love with Alec, for no reason I can discern, and Alec is a troubled, cynical, and really annoying youth who I neither like nor care about.    

I did like the politics and social maneuvering, and I think this book lives up a bit to the idea that it's an Austen-esque take on a fantastical society.   It gives the foibles, humor, mockery and silliness of antiquated situations, which was cute (best word I can think of there).


I was a little bit peeved, though, because while the book was very open with male non-heteronormative behavior (apparently homosexual behavior among men was nothing to raise an eyebrow at and quite common), you don't see any glimpses of these kind of relationships between women, and women were still stuck subservient in a very strong patriarchal system.

I had a hard time wondering why we couldn't have stronger women, lesbian relationships, or a more egalitarian system while we're totally accepting of (male) homosexual behavior, and from a woman writer, no less. 

I don't know, the story was interesting, interesting enough that I was curious about what happened next and immediately started The Privilege of the Sword, and I did like it overall, I think.