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Swordspoint (The World of Riverside #1)

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  7,316 Ratings  ·  705 Reviews
The classic forerunner to The Fall of the Kings now with three bonus stories.

Hailed by critics as "a bravura performance" (Locus) and "witty, sharp-eyed, [and] full of interesting people" (Newsday), this classic melodrama of manners, filled with remarkable plot twists and unexpected humor, takes fantasy to an unprecedented level of elegant writing and scintillating wit. A
Mass Market Paperback, 329 pages
Published February 2003 by Spectra (first published 1987)
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Heidi It's mostly implied, there are a few kissing scenes but this isn't a romance book. There is much more political intrigue and dueling and implied…moreIt's mostly implied, there are a few kissing scenes but this isn't a romance book. There is much more political intrigue and dueling and implied affairs both m/m and m/f. (less)
Jeff Davis i am not sure that it would qualify as fantasy at all without some of these things.The talisman and Black house by stephen king and peter straub come…morei am not sure that it would qualify as fantasy at all without some of these things.The talisman and Black house by stephen king and peter straub come to mind as very good,with minimal fantastic stuff.(less)

Community Reviews

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Jan 27, 2017 Brad rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, 2017-shelf
First, I should point out that the audiobook of this novel is a fantastic treat, including multiple voices including the author, herself, but also ambient sounds such as background conversations and even a cat! Music, too! But don't let that dissuade you, either, because it's all low-key enough to let us focus mainly on the tale at hand.

So what is this? Is it really fantasy?

Honestly, I don't think there's much fantasy at all, but if you like swords and high 18th century culture on a slight stero
Mike (the Paladin)
Apr 01, 2010 Mike (the Paladin) rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
I read very little of this book. While it is well written (I say this in respect to those who like it greatly) it is not a book I care to get involved in. The world while well crafted is one that creeps toward debauchery and cynicism on an almost monumental scale. There are actually (so far as I can see) no "heroes" here, very little that is redeeming. It's claim to fame is a drama in a world of those who see themselves as sly sophisticates.

Please enjoy it if it's to your taste as fiction.. It
Aug 18, 2013 julio rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to julio by: Jas
my goodness, but this was fun.

by the time I started worrying that the twisty subterfuge would drain the story of momentum I looked up and realized I'd practically inhaled this badboy to the 70 percent mark.

and then some shit went down and my heart was pounding in my throat.

meanwhile, this edition has a trio of follow-up stories at the end, so 70 percent turned out to be 90 percent.


a lush, layered, ingeniously taut melange of gripping skullduggery, sword fights, bisexual escapades, and ev
Jun 05, 2007 Siria rated it did not like it
I picked this up for a couple of euro in one of my favourite second-hand bookshops because I'd heard it recommended numerous times on my flist. Cheesy fantasy novel cover aside (as a side note, exactly why must the covers of 99% of fantasy books be so fantastically appalling?), the descriptions I'd heard of it made it seem as if the book was tailor-made to appeal to me. A well-written, slashy, historical fantasy-of-manners - what's not to like?

Well, quite a lot, as it turns out. If the blurb by
Ellen Kushner's first novel sets the standard for what a polite fantasy of manners and romance should be. Like Jane Austen, Ms. Kushner's language sparkles with wit and verve. She creates a world both familiar and yet not like anyplace we've ever been and inhabits it with characters who cease to be imaginary. Like Rafael Sabatini, the swordfight scenes keep one on the edge of their seat, though are elegantly restrained yet sharply honed.

Richard St. Vier is as dashing and gallant as Basil Rathbo
Feb 18, 2012 Miss rated it liked it
Hahahahaha wow. Man I don't even know what to say about this. Okay basic run down: this book's got two primary narrators: Richard St. Vier and Michael Godwin. Everyone wants a piece of St. Vier because he's the most badass swordsman ever to exist and apparently stabbing people is an acceptable way to resolve conflicts in this world so long as you outsource the job. Michael Godwin is a doof with a talent for ruining his own life. Lucky for him he is rich good looking doof who catches the eye of o ...more
Nov 22, 2012 Lau rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Personas con insomnio. Es la primera vez que un libro me hace quedar dormida.
Nunca más le hago caso a una recomendación de George R.R. Martin.

Esta es la historia de Richard de Vier, una suerte de mercenario que trabaja de batirse a duelo con espadas en nombre de la persona que lo contrata. No tiene escrúpulos en matar a su contrincante si la situación lo amerita, y suele ser contratado por los nobles que viven en la Colina, la parte de la ciudad donde la ley aún existe... bastante.
El libro irá alternando la historia de Richard con las historias de varios nobles, en una c
[Name Redacted]
Tiresome. Tedious. Repetitive. Populated with interchangeable, unlikable cardboard cut-out characters. The dialogue is endlessly crammed with discussions of fashion and parties and clothes and status-seeking. The action sequences either occur off-stage or crawl by at a snail's pace, and despite its name there's next to no sword-fighting in the actual narrative.

I have no idea how this became considered a "new classic" nor even how it managed to become identified as "fantasy." It's more like an a
Jan 25, 2016 Josh rated it it was amazing
Gorgeous and memorable book. There's not a lot that I can add that hasn't been said. I read it about the time I was discovering LGBTQ characters in spec fiction, and I remember wishing that everything could be like this.
Apr 25, 2008 Sean rated it it was amazing
I read this book years ago when I was an impressionable Mormon closet case, and I remember being intrigued and disturbed at the time by Kushner's depiction of lust, bisexuality and homosexual relationships. When I reread it today I rediscovered its brilliance, intricacy and poignancy. The relationship between the swordsman St Vier and "his young gentleman, the University student" had a glittering, frenzied, self-destructive beauty I associate with Matt Damon's Mr. Ripley, while finding an eventu ...more
Sarah Anne
4.5 Stars.

This book was a whole lot of fun! Humor and swordplay and romance all rolled into one. I'm usually not a big fan of the Fantasy of Manners subgenre but this one was very close to absolute perfection.

I listened to the multi-cast audio with the "illuminated" bits, which were basically sound effects every now and then. If people were running you would hear footsteps, there was sound for sword play, the babble of voices in a crowded area, doors creaking open, and a few other things. It re
Jan 21, 2017 Lulu rated it it was amazing
It's hard to be happy about the fact you spent a day vomiting your guts up. But, when, a couple of days later, being too ill still to leave the house allows you to stay home and listen to the audiobook instead of going to see a show, it certainly makes you a little more grateful for sickness. That's how much I enjoyed this.

I can only describe this book as being a total delight. For someone who isn't a fan of Austen, a fantasy of manners is often hit-and-miss for me. This was all hits. The charac
Nov 06, 2011 Joseph rated it it was amazing
I read this book first many years ago
Seduced by Canty's gorgeous cover or
Reviews in Locus, honestly, I don't
Recall or think it matters at this point.
The point is: You should buy and read this book.
St Vier and Alec, star-crossed lovers, if
The stars were feeling just a bit perverse:
St Vier the swordsman, best in Riverside
And Alec, clad in ragged student's robes
(but is his past mysterious? of course)
Are caught in nobles' intrigues labyrinthine
(for swordsmen are to nobles but a tool,
used as honor di
Aug 09, 2007 D rated it it was amazing
I do not like fantasy books at all--particularly those that deal with magic and monsters and the like. I was initially skeptical of how well I would like this book since it is in the fantasy genre, but very quickly I found that I could not put this book down. I have recently re-read it and found it to still be high on my list of favorite books.

What did it for me was that this book was not about the things one usually thinks of upon hearing the word "fantasy." There was no magic or mythical crea
Kat  Hooper
Aug 28, 2012 Kat Hooper rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Originally posted at FanLit.

Set in a fictional Georgian-era-type society, Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners is a "fantasy of manners" or "mannerpunk" novel. In contrast to epic fantasy, where the characters are fighting with swords and the fate of the universe is often at stake, mannerpunk novels are usually set in a hierarchical class-based society where the characters battle with words and wit. There may or may not be magic or sorcery involved and, in
Dec 27, 2008 Lightreads rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, fantasy, romance, lgbt
Politics, class, sword fighting, and an intense, subtle M/M romance. This book just made me happy. It's clever but not baroque, emotionally resonant, sweet and bitter and tense. I get the impression this was Kushner's first published novel, and there are a few missteps -- most notably a belief that the reader will be as interested in secondary characters as in the protagonists. But what protagonists they are -- subversive, unfitting, sympathetic. It's also complex and nuanced, and I suspect when ...more
Jan 07, 2009 Nikki rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, queer
Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint is a very light and easy to read fantasy novel. The book is set in an unnamed city, in a world rather different to ours. The main character, Richard, is a swordsman, who earns his living by killing nobles by contract. This is basically done as a way to get around blood being on a noble's hands. The other main character, Alec, is mysterious and very, very messed up. Despite the fact that the cover doesn't breathe a word of it, Richard and Alec are lovers.

On one level,
Feb 06, 2010 Sophie rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, lgbt, fantasy
Swordspoint is a fantasy novel set in an unnamed city that is roughly divided into two parts: the Hill, where the nobility live, and Riverside, home to the less fortunate inhabitants of the town. The city is governed by a council of nobles, and those nobles have a tendency to fight among themselves; however, they don't pick up swords themselves but hire swordsmen to fight their fights for them.

The main character of the book is such a swordsmen: Richard St Vier. He is extraordinarily talented: th
Jan 28, 2008 Dumbledore11214 rated it it was amazing
If I could give this book ten stars, I would have. It is a rare book that will make me care for the society that promotes values so different from my own. I could not believe that I actually sympathized with the society that makes murders for hire part of their everyday life. Um, they call them swordsmen, but to me, really potato - patato.

And I so enjoyed the writing, very very beatifully done.

I highly recommend this book to everybody who loves politics and intrigue. I must warn you though - two
Oct 14, 2010 Tracey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, 5-star
Swordspoint is something I’ve thought about rereading now and then, but never did – till I found its sequel, The Privilege of the Sword, at Books & Co., happily, and ordered the third book, written with Delia Sherman: The Fall of the Kings. This first book tells the tale of Richard St. Vier, who is a swordsman in a society where the nobles hire swordsmen to fight their duels for them, sometimes to the death. In fact, St. Vier is the pre-eminent swordsman, respected and not a little feared. H ...more
Jun 16, 2007 Punk rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer, fantasy
Fiction. This is another one of those books beloved of my friends list that I just found impossible to love.

It's supposed to be a retelling of a fairy tale, though I never did figure out which one. Or, to be honest, care. The writing's overwrought and the characters shallow.

In this world, the men all seem to be bisexual, but no one's having good sex. It's all implied and bizarrely metaphoric, like Hemingway slammed face-first into the Victorians and suddenly everything's splendid and mysterious,
Jamie Collins
Oct 09, 2010 Jamie Collins rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
This is an unusual fantasy novel, a "melodrama of manners". It has a medieval setting on an invented world, with preening nobility who hire professional swordsmen to fight duels of honor on their behalf. There's no magic, but there's a lot of casual bisexuality. The focus of the book is an intriguing romance between a renowned swordsman and a caustic, suicidal young man who appears to be a nobleman gone slumming.

The writing was quite good, and I enjoyed the romance - every scene with Alec and St
Nov 06, 2010 Julia rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, queer, gender
I don't normally read sword fighting adventures, so when I first picked this up I said "If it's not gay by the end of the first chapter, I'm not going to continue." Lo and behold, by the end of chapter one our (male) hero returns to his room at an inn he shares with his boyfriend.[return][return]This book both bucks genre conventions and plays with them in interesting ways. The society beauties are male, and that gender flip plays out in different ways than it does with women. This book is engag ...more
Isabel Bitterblau

Prometía más de lo que es.
Apr 04, 2016 Beth rated it really liked it
I first read Swordspoint almost twenty years ago and fell for it hard. It was a revelation, with its high drama and intense romance (between two men!). I'm happy to say that the intervening time has been mostly kind to it.

The novel's subtitle is "A Melodrama of Manners" and aside from the more overtly melodramatic events like kidnapping and revenge, and duels to the death, there are battles of words with dramatic, high stakes; the moving of political chess pieces on the board; and a trial with a
This was a hard book for me to read. It is undeniably brilliantly written, with characters that go down and down and a world that extends well belong the edge of the page. It is true, there is no magic as so many people insist on having in their fantasy worlds, but the world we get glimpses of is certainly not this one, so there is nowhere else to market it but the fantasy shelves. That depth and realism is extremely rare, and definitely to be commended: every single character whose viewpoint we ...more
Jun 19, 2015 Lilyan rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy, swordplay
This was a very strange book, made even more so by the fact that half of the audiobook is totally narrated by the author while the other half has a cast reading the dialogue, very confusing.

I did not get into this story until about 80% in. I just did not like the world Kushner built Perhaps I am a bit of a prude, but the fact that all but one of the men were bisexual and that the whole society is built on killing everyone you simply don't like just bothered me.

I also wasn't a huge fan of Alec
Kate Sherwood
Jan 23, 2015 Kate Sherwood rated it liked it
Listened to the audiobook - probably would have been better to read it. This was an 'enhanced' audiobook, which seems to mean that some scenes are presented with actors playing different characters, some scenes have sound effects, some have both, and some are just traditionally narrated. It was kind of jarring. I think I'd have preferred it in just straight-up, traditional audiobook style.

Getting past that? I was really intrigued by the relationship between St.Vire and Alec. They're both psychop
Jacob Proffitt
People keep talking this up as "a fantasy of manners", but for that to work, you have to have actual wit and snappy dialog and someone to root for. I only made it about half-way through but to that point, Swordspoint is devoid of anything or anyone likable and the conversations are, at best, desultory. The only byplay you get is laboriously highlighted by the narrative voice, all subtlety wiped out by neon-like description and color commentary/analysis.

And the characters are all mean, in a compl
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Ellen Kushner weaves together multiple careers as a writer, radio host, teacher, performer and public speaker.

A graduate of Barnard College, she also attended Bryn Mawr College, and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She began her career in publishing as a fiction editor in New York City, but left to write her first novel Swordspoint, which has become a cult classic, hailed as the progenitor of the “mann
More about Ellen Kushner...

Other Books in the Series

The World of Riverside (5 books)
  • Tremontaine: The Complete Season One (Tremontaine #1.1-1.13)
  • Tremontaine: The Complete Season Two (Tremontaine #2.1-2.13)
  • The Privilege of the Sword (Riverside, #2)
  • The Fall of the Kings (Riverside, #3)

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“Let the fairy tale begin on a winter's morning, then, with one drop of blood newly-fallen on the ivory snow: a drop as bright as a clear-cut ruby, red as a single spot of claret on the lace cuff.” 26 likes
“Richard knew he was fighting for his life, and he was terribly happy.” 7 likes
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