Saturday, August 25, 2012

_Swordspoint_ and "The Death of the Duke", by Ellen Kushner

I put the novel Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner on hold after reading her short story "The Death of the Duke" on Strange Horizons, and reading the introduction to it. It's not a recent book -- it's from 1987. By the time the book arrived, the only thing I remembered about it was that it was a no-magic fantasy.

It's a great book with strong characters and a believable setting. I was skeptical of the no-magic fantasy at first, but I'm very happy to read about a place with cultural differences -- mainly, the use of dueling-by-proxy to settle disputes between noble houses.

It's a short book and a pretty spare setting -- all the action takes place in a nameless city, the capitol of a realm that somehow kicked out its king years ago and has been getting along fine via a council of nobles.

Perhaps the oddest thing about it the society is that some characters are bisexual and no one makes a big deal of it. There's no angst associated with it and it's never used as a plot point.

Some of those bisexuals manage to get it on a number of times, but it's handled adroitly -- the book is pretty romantic while being less racy than a lot of recent romance novels. Probably if the thing was filmed, I'd find it uncomfortable to sit through. But this isn't a film, it's a story with characters who make you feel strongly, and I can't ask for better than that.

Also, cool swordfights.

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