Review: Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner (1987)

“Above him, the stars shone frosty and remote in the clear sky. They wouldn’t dare to twinkle at him, not in the position he was in.”

Swordspoint, Ellen Kushner

Rating: ★★★★★
Genre: Fantasy, romantic (but not a romance)
Categories: M/M, M/F, politics & intrigue, royalty and nobility, hidden identity, swords & swordplay

Content Warnings (highlight to read): Frequent but not super graphic murder & violence. Recreational drug use. Discussions & ideation of suicide. Very morally ambiguous protagonists.

Description: A “classic melodrama of manners” where disputes are settled with sharp blades and sharper tongues. Swordspoint follows an interweaving set of characters and perspectives in a struggle for political power in the world of Riverside: Richard St Vier, an excellent swordsman but not much for conversation; Alec, his sharp-tongued lover with bad habits and worse ideas; Michael Godwin, a young lord who finds himself involved in games over his head; an elegantly powerful Duchess; and the rest of an engaging and largely morally ambiguous cast.

Impression: I sincerely love this book. I’ve read it several times over the years, and each time I pick it up I find myself charmed again and not at all let down in retrospect. The prose is lyrical & evocative and easy to read, and the pacing rarely feels weighed down. Most of all, the characters (particularly Alec, Richard, and the Duchess) are very… unique. They’re sometimes hard to like, but very, very easy to enjoy.

Note: While this is classified as fantasy, Swordspoint is fairly low on the ‘fantasy’ scale (no magic, just stabbing).

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