I came late to the Bordertown books, discovering them as an adult, but once I did I collected them assiduously on Amazon and eBay and devoured them greedily. I was delighted when I learned that there would a new collection, and that Ellen Kushner, my favorite writer, would be one of the editors.
The Bordertown series was the first of the "Urban Fantasy" genre, set in a world very close to our own contemporary world, rather than faux-medieval-Earth or some other planet entirely. So the issues of gang violence, racism, and political and economic inequalities, are just as real in this world as they are in ours, and present in a way that are very relevant to young readers (as well as older ones).
The premise is that Bordertown has been closed off from the world, for thirteen years in world time, but only thirteen days in Bordertown. This plays into a number of stories, most significantly the opening, "Welcome to Bordertown", by Ellen Kushner and Teri Windling. In this story, a little boy waits thirteen years to grow up and journey to Bordertown in search of his sister. When he is reunited with her, they have both made surprising discoveries about themselves.
I liked most everything in this anthology, but I loved "A Tangle of Green Men" by Charles de Lint, "Incunabulum", by Emma Bull, and particularly "We Do Not Come in Peace" by Christopher Barzak.
The performances of the narrators Cassandra Campbell, MacLeod Andrews, and Ellen Kushner, are particularly noteworthy. Kushner's reading of "Soulja Grrrl: A Long Line Rap" by Jane Yolen made me howl with laughter. Andrews' interpretation of the narrator, Marius of "We Do Not Come in Peace" was a perfect portrayal of a disillusioned young man who considered himself beaten down by life in Bordertown. Campbell's multiple dialects in Nalo Hopkinson's "Ours is the Prettiest" were loads of fun.
If you are planning a summer trip with kids in the YA age group, this would be a great and thoughtful introduction to the genre of "Urban Fantasy", and something the whole family could enjoy.
Ellen Kushner's "The Privilege of the Sword", an Austen-esque tale spiced with romance (and swordfights!) is a delight from start to finish.
Artemisia, a gently-reared young lady of the nobility, discovers to her shock that the process of Growing Up actually equates to "being marketed as a valuble commodity", and that she herself has no real say over the consummation of the deal. Katherine, fresh from the country, looks forward to a conventional coming-out, as befits her family's rank; however, her guardian in the City is the definitely un-conventional Mad Duke Tremontaine, and he has very different plans for her. In desperate straits, Mia finds in Katherine a lifeline, while Katherine views Mia's circumstances with horror, and finds herself feeling more than a little gratitude to her uncle for making sure she doesn't suffer similar circumstances.
Woven all around this is Kushner's rich tapestry of Riverside and the Hill, the Mad Duke Tremontaine and his outrageous antics, a delightful cast of supporting characters (Lord Michael Godwin and his lady, Rosamund, are a particular delight), and of course, Tremontaine's love for the swordsman St Vier at the heart of it all.
If you are a fan of Ellen Kushner's books, you already know all that! So let me speak now specifically about the audiobook version.
The presentation as an "illuminated audiobook" is a delight from beginning to end. Ellen Kushner as Katherine's first-person narrator, and Barbara Rosenblat as the Narrator, are perfectly droll. Felicia Day's Katherine is as fresh and vibrant as any fifteen-year-old you might know. Katherine Kellgren reads a variety of female parts, each of them distinct and amusing, while Nick Sullivan, who we loved to hate as Lord Ferris in the "Swordspoint" audiobook, reprises that role here, even more wonderfully despicable. Joe Hurley's Tremontaine is deliciously decadent-sounding. (If you're a TPOTS fan, and you're wondering, Ellen Kushner narrates the well-loved "Highcombe" scene. It's heartrending.)
A particularly enjoyable aspect of the "illuminated audiobook" is Nate Tronerud's original soundtrack music (which also incorporates some of his well-loved themes from the "Swordspoint" audiobook. Although we only get to hear bits and pieces, each theme is unique and memorable, perfectly highlighting character and mood.
A story I've loved for years becomes even more vivid in audio form. The addition of voice actors and music, in addition to Ms Kushner's superb reading, makes the magic of Riverside come even more alive. I've waited years for this title to appear as an audiobook, and this was well worth the wait.
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