Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint gets regular mention as one of the classic modern fantasies that I should have read by now. But why oh why did nobody ever say ‘it’s fantasy Dangerous Liaisons with gay fencing’?
Seriously, if that doesn’t do it for you…
Okay, I’d better come clean. I have no idea whether Swordspoint is going to deliver on ‘fantasy Dangerous Liaisons’ because I’m only 5 chapters in. Not reading ahead and devouring the whole thing this week ranks as the hardest thing I’ve done since putting down The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet at the end of each week.
So this is all about promise. Swordspoint opens with a beautiful description of a city in winter, the Hill stained with blood and the crumbling stonework of Riverside made elegant by the snow. One man is dead and another lies dying after a duel, a professional swordsman makes his way home to his lover, and the nobility are scheming.
I get the distinct impression that the nobility are always scheming. This time, nobody’s sure who paid for the duel or why an uninvited third party stepped in. In a city where professional duels are a paid entertainment at birthday parties (well, some birthday parties. Not that Richard de Vier would stoop to entertaining at a birthday party), this one is subject to much discussion.
Some of that discussion is between the Duchess Tremontaine, Lady Halliday and Lady Godwin; it’s the slightly-aflutter, worldly but unwise presence of young Michael Godwin at their gathering that gave me Dangerous Liaisons. The Duchess is… overpowering. In an utterly awesome, probably don’t trust her, heart beating faster, poor Michael sort of way.
…although we soon realize that poor Michael is a pretty inappropriate point of view. Michael Godwin may not be a dab hand with a sword (although he’d like to be), but he’s excellent at climbing down drainpipes in the nude to avoid jealous husbands. His nonchalance and his practiced (if aborted) seduction of Lord Horn make it pretty damn clear that – except perhaps in comparison to the Duchess – Michael is about as far from innocent as you can get.
And then we have Alec. Mysterious, well-spoken Alec, who may or may not be a University student and who likes to goad men into fights so that Richard can cut them to pieces for him. Who knows where he fits in (other than – no, no, I’m going to avoid the obvious sexual innuendo), but he’s got trouble written all over him.
I have no idea where all this is going, but I can’t wait to find out. Join us for our weekly read (full schedule here)! We will be livetweeting (at least, @effingrainbow will be and I hope to join her some weeks) through 5 or so chapters every Sunday night.