After reading Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword I immediately went in search of Swordspoint, the first book she set in The City (thus far she has refused to give the city a name). The volume comes with the novel and 3 bonus short stories set in the same world.
I’m finding it hard to be objective about Swordspoint because, honestly, I was disappointed. But I was so hopelessly smitten by Privilege that perhaps disappointment here was inevitable. It isn’t a bad book but it doesn’t feel as substantive as Kushner’s most recent volume. I wonder if I would’ve felt that way if the world was new to me. I think a lot of the delight in Swordspoint would come from meeting the characters and learning about this strange city where nobles plot their Machiavelian plots but the Kings have been ousted.
In Swordspoint Alec and Richard are young men, lounging about in Riverside, being in love, and getting into trouble. Alec is an unknown quantity (and again, this may have changed the experience for me, as I knew who he really was from page 1) and Richard is an infamous swordsman in much demand from the nobles. Lord Ferris is a power-hungry up-and-comer, yet to experience the setbacks mentioned in Privilege. Duchess Tremontaine is in the prime of her beauty and power. It was nice, in particular, to get to know her.
When Richard refuses a contract from a particular noble, the Lord in question takes it upon himself to try to force Richard’s hand. Richard retaliates and ends up finding himself in hot water (I’m being intentionally vague). Huh, come to think of it, maybe that’s my problem with the book. There’s a ton of ambiance and character description and seeing the city, but really not a lot happens. There’re a few threads that kind of peter out to no apparent purpose. And if I were to be honest, the ending felt…well, almost like Kushner had to stretch to gather in her threads and tie them all off.
It certainly isn’t a bad book. But it isn’t of the same “omigawd you have to read this!!!” caliber that Privilege is. One of the short stories at the end is called The Death of the Duke and was very satisfying. The other two were just good fun. If you love this world that Kushner has created, you’ll want to read Swordspoint just to learn more about events mentioned in Privilege. But don’t expect to be as amazed as you were with the later book. I’d love to hear the opinion of someone who reads this book first; if anyone stumbles on this blog and wants to do a mini review I’d be thrilled to post it.