People who pick up this book without knowing anything about it might be a little surprised at the turns it takes. Swordspoint is only about swords in the social sense of the word - there is little sword fighting and action of that sort is thin on the ground. But Ellen Kushner never pretends that the book will be some kind of action-packed thriller. As Neil Gaiman says in his introduction, the key to this book is in its subtitle: A Melodrama of Manners.
The story revolves around the social station of a number of aristocrats in a fantasy city, who live on 'The Hill' while the lower denizens inhabit the city by the river, handily named 'Riverside.' The two sides interact mainly when the higher classes have to get their hands dirty, by arranging affairs of dubious legality or honor, or engaging a swordsman to fight to the death on their behalf. The main character is the celebrated duelist Richard St. Veer, whose position is more often outlined in social terms than in violent ones.
Of course, it is far from that simple. A Melodrama of Manners hardly ever is. But the story is very entertaining and unusual for the sort of high-fantasy setting that this is similar to. The prose is quick and clever, and the way that the audiobook was performed was great. I hope other audiobooks follow its example. I have already listened to another of Kushner's books, and I intend to read or listen to more when I can obtain them.
Like many others who wrote these reviews, I picked up this book because it was part of the Neil Gaiman Presents series. This is NOT for fans of traditional fantasy, and many people who expect traditional fantasy will find it dull or uninspired.
No doubt it is a great concept - the Minotaur lives on and works as a fry cook at a diner in North Carolina. This take on a modern mythical creature is certainly original, but my biggest problem with the Minotaur is that he is a very passive character, which sometimes made it frustrating to listen to. Unlike other current bestsellers of the literary fiction genre, such as Haruki Murakami, there is no grander sense of purpose, and the Minotaur often lets the worst side of life show itself by standing by while the action is happening to someone else. The author is aware of this - his prose is even critical, at times, of those who sit passively and let life happen to other people, but the Minotaur himself is rarely anything but passive.
It's hard to discern the point of this book, or parse the central themes. While other works of literary fiction are also hard to boil down, that is usually because they seem to have a greater sense of scale that moves beyond the prose. Here I didn't get any sense of some larger purpose or idea - the end just left me frustrated.
It's a beautifully written book, and if you're looking for something to read you could certainly do worse. But don't expect any kind of traditional fantasy - high, urban, or other.
I read a few of Holly Black's books when I was a teen and I thought they were amazing. I read both Valiant and Tithe, the prequels to this book, and was excited to revisit the world when I had the opportunity to download it.
Alas, the book did not hook me the way that the others did. Maybe it's because I haven't read the others recently enough, or because a lot of the things that ran true as a teen don't apply to me anymore. Also distracting was the narrator. For some reason her voice annoyed me. I think I would recommend reading this book instead of listening to it.
Holly Black does great work with the Fairies of the east coast and the concept of living with them in a divided world. She is obviously knowledgeable regarding fairy lore and she works well with the intricacies of their politics without making the narrative boring. Sometimes the dialogue, particularly that of Rooiben, seems stilted though.
I generally like Holly Black, and would definitely recommend her other work. But my favorite is still Valiant and I further feel that the story is complete enough without the addition of Ironside.
...and now I understand why. The classic tale about a man's deal with the Devil for untold earthly pleasures had a sorrowful and encompassing first half that seems to tell a complete part of the story, which I really enjoyed.
The second half of the play was not really related to the first. It was divided into little story-acts that didn't always relate to each other and often left me confused. While it was easy to follow the first half and infer what would be happening on stage, it was a lot more difficult to do so with the second. Apparently, Goethe wrote the first part long before the second, and the second was published posthumously. It focuses on different themes and has less of a linear narrative, all of which served only to confuse me as I listened. It doesn't help that many of Faust's trials in the second part involve mythical places and allusions that aren't easily described through dialogue alone. The play does its best with sound effects that make the listening experience more enjoyable, and the actors were brilliant. But I think I would have enjoyed it more if it were only the first part.
This story really has it all - love, injustice, revenge, fabulous wealth, violence, robbers, intrigue - the list goes on. The classic tale that can be summed up in just a few words is far more complicated than I first realized when I purchased this book, and I have not for an instant regretted spending my time on it. It seems to be one of those books, moreover, that is easier to listen to than to read. The narrator has a voice I could listen to forever...which is good, since the book in its narrated form is between 40 and 50 hours. His distinctions between each voice are subtle but noticeable, and never ridiculous (like some narrators out there). Overall a brilliant book that deserves its place as a classic, rendered perfectly through Audible for a great experience.
I was advised to read this by a friend, and while I generally think he has good taste in books, I cannot think of why he recommended this. Brett has turned the possibility of an interesting, futuristic world of Hell and magic into just another sword-and-sorcery fantasy. His characters are made of cardboard and talk like 'simple, humble country folk' in the same way that the 'Native Americans' talked like Native Americans in Disney's animated Peter Pan. At points the dialog was so ridiculous as to be laughable. I hate not finishing a book, but I stopped somewhere around the supposed climax because it had become that uninteresting. There are no surprises, and a few of his plot points even violate the common sense of his world.
The narration is generally good, although Bradbury certainly doesn't give any life to the songs that Brett periodically puts in. At the end of the day, this book just made me angry for being so recommended and yet so bad. It is certainly no contribution to the genre of fantasy.
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