Book #52: Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners (1987)

swordspoint_audiowriter/narrator: Ellen Kushner
language: English
length: 653 minutes (10 hours 53 minutes)
finished listening on: 25 February 2014

Yet another audiobook: I’ve been chewing my way through them very quickly because they make a useful accompaniment to exercise. This one was written in 1987, but only made into an audiobook recently on the advice of Neil Gaiman, who liked the book, and apparently has an audiobook publishing label. The author, Ellen Kushner, now primarily makes a living doing radio, meaning that she is quite competent at doing the narration herself. For the key scenes, they also have a full cast to narrate the characters, although unlike the other Neil Gaiman audiobook I listened to, or the Philip Pullman ones I listened to a few years back, this only happens in about half the chapters of Swordspoint, and for the rest of the book, Kushner narrates everything. This particular audiobook does something I haven’t heard before, which is provide sound effects for a lot of scenes, such as background noises, footsteps, knocks on the door, or in crowd scenes, people chatting or reacting to the action. It was very professionally produced and clearly, a lot of thought went into it.

I came across the book mainly because it was recommended by someone on the internet as having well-written gay relationships in it, and that much is definitely true – one of the main characters, the swordsman Richard, is in a relationship with another man, and some of the other characters pursue their own gender. I enjoyed reading about them, and I perked up when I first realized what the book was describing. I’m also glad that Kushner herself is gay (or bi; she’s married to a woman in any case), as I’ve specifically rejected reading books listed in Audible’s and Amazon’s Gay & Lesbian sections because they were obvious written and read only by straight women.

The book is listed as fantasy, but frankly the main thing I see as fantasy is the fact that these same-sex relationships aren’t seen as sinful or strange, and nobody looks down condescendingly on Richard and Alec for dating, for instance. It’s also been described as a fairy tale, but again, I didn’t see any magical elements to the story, just a medieval/Renaissance kingdom setting, and a lot of sword battles.

The characters are the driving force of the story, so it’s perhaps annoying for me that there are so many, making some of the early court and party scenes confusing, but by about halfway through, I was sufficiently invested in most of the characters that I wanted to find out what happens to them all.

It wasn’t as easy to follow as a book like Jam, or even American Gods – I think in this case, the conversations were much more convoluted and with even more characters, but it was a lot easier to follow than, for instance, The Wild Boys, as it actually had a proper plot structure. Most of the plot is conveyed through conversation, similar to Death Note.

Even though at times I got bored or found it difficult to follow, I was still impressed with this book, and I’m looking forward to reading some more by Kushner in the future.

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