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Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners | [Ellen Kushner]

Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners

On the treacherous streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. Within this elite, dangerous world, Richard St. Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless--until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead of awe, and the city discovers that the line between hero and villain can be altered in the blink of an eye.
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Publisher's Summary

Audie Award, Audio Drama, 2013

Award-winning author, narrator, and screenwriter Neil Gaiman personally selected this book, and, using the tools of the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), cast the narrator and produced this work for his audiobook label, Neil Gaiman Presents.

A few words from Neil on Swordspoint: "It's as if Jane Austen wrote fantasy... an imaginary world where the characters are real people: a Vanity Fair of aristocrats, rogues, orphans, and heroes; a book where the best swordsman in the land can make far more money dueling at private parties than he can as a knight-errant. Ellen Kushner casts her sharp eye over them all, but with great affection and lavish detaiI.... couldn't think of a better performer for Swordspoint than Ellen, and her reading is polished, intimate, and – since Riverside is of her creation – wholly authentic.

"What really makes this production of Swordspoint unique, though, is the supporting cast in this special "illuminated production". Several key scenes are fully dramatized, and throughout the entire book's soundscapes you will hear the cadences of the marketplace, the music of the drawing rooms, and of course the ring of steel drawn from the scabbard. Ellen actually wrote new dialogue for the crowd scenes, so the actors aren't just mumbling "rhubarb rhubarb" to simulate speech.... You'll be able to hear performances from acclaimed and award-winning actors, including Dion Graham, Katherine Kellgren, Robert Fass, Nick Sullivan, and the remarkable Simon Jones."

In this exciting new "illuminated production", the author herself reads her own work, supported by a full cast. Author Ellen Kushner is also a popular performer and National Public Radio host (Sound & Spirit). For years, fans have been asking her to record her own audiobook of Swordspoint. To mark the 25th anniversary of the book's publication, Ellen teamed up with Sue Zizza of SueMedia Productions, known for her signature touches of soundscapes and sound effects, multi-voiced dramatizations, and all the techniques of "illuminated production". Together they have made Swordspoint a brand-new audio experience, in which the full supporting cast dramatizes and illuminates key scenes from Ellen's compelling narration.

On the streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. And in this city, the swordsman Richard St. Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless – until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead of awe, and the city discovers that the line between hero and villain can be altered in the blink of an eye. Because every man lives at sword's point, if you can only find his weakness. And even the greatest swordsman in Riverside has one thing he cares for deeply.

Hailed by critics as "a bravura performance, a delight from start to finish" (Locus), "intelligent, humorous and dramatic" (Publishers Weekly) and "witty, beguiling and ingenious" (Interzone) , Kushner's "Melodrama of Manners" has become a classic, a favorite not only of Neil Gaiman but a host of distinguished colleagues, including George R. R. Martin ("unforgettable!"), Orson Scott Card ("powerful") and Gene Wolfe ("as if Noel Coward had written a vehicle for Errol Flynn!").

The artwork used for the audiobook edition of Swordspoint is based on the artwork and design by Thomas Canty for the original first US edition of the book.

To hear more from Neil Gaiman on Swordspoint, click here, or listen to the introduction at the beginning of the book itself.

Learn more about Neil Gaiman Presents and Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX).

©1987 Ellen Kushner (P)2011 SueMedia Productions

What the Critics Say

"A glorious thing, the book we might have had if Noel Coward had written a vehicle for Errol Flynn. It’s wicked and visual and witty, and it pulls you in like the doorman of a Bourbon Street bar." (Gene Wolfe)

"Swordspoint begins with a single drop of blood on a field of new-fallen snow, an image that burned itself forever into my mind the first time I encountered it. I can close my eyes and see it still. It’s a terrific opening, an unforgettable opening... and the book just gets better from there." (George R. R. Martin)

“Ellen Kushner delivers her utterly unique blend of modern fantasy and nineteenth-century novel of manners with absolute conviction, affectionate humor, and perfect phrasing. “Neil Gaiman Presents” has provided original music, lively soundscapes, and the voices of some of the audio world’s most distinguished performers. Hearing Katherine Kellgren, Dion Graham, and others sharpen the cutting, insightful dialogue is pure pleasure.” (Audiofile)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.5 (818 )
5 star
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3.9 (727 )
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Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    The Ineffable Pangolin The Empire State 01-29-13
    The Ineffable Pangolin The Empire State 01-29-13 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    10
    ratings
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    7
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    "99% Kushner, 1% "cast", 100% adolescent fantasy"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    Neil Gaiman seemed inordinately proud of the supposedly full-voiced production. Why, then is this 99% Ellen Kushner reading it? MAYBE 1% is performed by the actors (who aren't terribly good) they advertised, and sometimes even those scenes shift abruptly into Ellen Kushner reading it again, Kushner voicing the same characters they had previously had voiced by actors & actresses; after the mid-way point, even that 1% ceases and it becomes all-Kushner-all-the-time. This was a sham, a case of false advertising, a waste of my time and money. Either have a single person read the whole thing, like most other audiobooks, or have a full cast performing the whole thing. You can't get away with this sort of piss-poor production if you plan to advertise it as something else.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Ellen Kushner again?

    No.


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of the narrators?

    I would have cast either a full cast or just Kushner. Make up your minds, folks.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    No. It read like a female version of what women accuse men of writing when we write lesbians -- an adolescent fantasy. It's all fashion and parties and squabbling over status, with action sequences that usually occur off-stage or crawl along at a snail's pace, set in a world in which every man is only one meaningful glance away from hopping into bed with another man. It read like the sort of terrible Harry Potter slash-fics my female friends wrote in high school and college - a girl's fantasy of what men get up to when women aren't around.


    Any additional comments?

    I regret buying the sequel at the same time I bought this book. I anticipated loving this, since everyone seems to, and instead I find myself despising it.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Novel Girl 01-25-13
    Novel Girl 01-25-13 Member Since 2011

    I like Fantasy novels :)

    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
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    "Unique, slightly magical, great listen"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Swordspoint to be better than the print version?

    Yes, the cast is great and it adds another dimension to the story


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Swordspoint?

    Richard's voice, the relationships of the characters


    What does the narrators bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    the sense of the scenes and time period


    Any additional comments?

    If you enjoy this genre, this is a must listen. I even bought the paperback to keep in my physical library

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lindsay Jeffers 12-22-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
    7
    ratings
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    37
    5
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    "A Detailed Swashbuckler"
    What did you love best about Swordspoint?

    The well-described locations and complex relationships among the many characters gave this story a solidity that I appreciated.


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jennifer Gorham, ME, United States 11-07-12
    Jennifer Gorham, ME, United States 11-07-12 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
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    "Spellbinding"

    Murder, swordsmen, intrigue and a complex maelstrom of human emotions move through this novel like a river. Masterfully executed and riveting from beginning to end.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Emily Auburndale, MA, United States 01-12-12
    Emily Auburndale, MA, United States 01-12-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Amazing performance!"
    If you could sum up Swordspoint in three words, what would they be?

    Sexy swashbuckling politicoes


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Richard and Alec are kind of terrible but I love them in spite of themselves. Although hmm, the Duchess might beat them.


    Have you listened to any of the narrators’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Well, I've heard Ellen read in person before, so sort of? She's a fantastic reader, and loves her characters and her settings so much. This was a great performance, and the sound effects and other actors for the dramatized scenes really added such richness to the recording.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    Oh, those mad, bad boys.


    Any additional comments?

    I read this book a few years ago, and just loved it then. Having such a fantastic audio version made me wriggly with joy. The last line of dialog is so simple and, out of context, utterly mundane, and the fact that it made me weep into my steering wheel is a testament to Kushner's ability to make a reader care so much about the characters that all of the context can fit into such a short line.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chris Minneapolis, MN, United States 12-27-11
    Chris Minneapolis, MN, United States 12-27-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Wonderful production of a terrific book"

    Swordspoint is one of my all-time favorite books--one I re-read every few years. I find it exceptionally compelling as a story, and I love the complexity of the plot and the intricate maneuvering of the characters. Ellen Kushner is a superb writer, and I have read all her work, including the other tales of Riverside. Swordsman Richard St. Vier and his lover Alec are two amazing fictional characters and I love being a part of their world. The audio version of the book is terrific: Kushner and her supporting cast make the ten plus hours fly by. Congratulations to everyone involved in the production, and thanks to Neil Gaiman for selecting it.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sho Sunaga 12-17-11
    Sho Sunaga 12-17-11

    Love Star Trek

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    45
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    5
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    "Great experience"

    I have read this book in Japanese more than 20years ago and this was the first time "reading" it in English and let me tell you...Wow

    The audiobook version of this book was given as a gift to me and it was such a jewel. It is actually read by the author with the casts including music and sound effects. I was not only able to experience the original English version, but also could enjoy the nuances and the richness of the dialogues as well, through the wonderful narration by the author.

    The experience of listening to this production was like watching (listening) to a classical Shakespeare-like periodic play. If you are a fan of this book, don't miss the experience!

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sandra Roseville, MN, United States 11-30-11
    Sandra Roseville, MN, United States 11-30-11 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
    16
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    "LOVE, LOVE, LOVE THIS BOOK!"

    I have read the original book several times and never dreamed I would get lucky enough to have the author herself read her work, with selected dramatization in parts. It's wonderful, it's fantastic, it's...well...it's Richard and Alec, the quintessential couple. And once again they are coming alive in my life, but this time via my ears instead of my eyes. I couldn't be much happier.

    16 of 20 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Eric San bernardino, CA, United States 12-08-11
    Eric San bernardino, CA, United States 12-08-11 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    181
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    32
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    10
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    Story
    "Excellent Story - sound effects distracting"

    I remember loving this book when I first read it and it was just as good the second time around. Brilliantly complex take on the swashbuckling story. The only negative is probably personal, I didn't care for the sound effects, some were just off, and others pulled me out of the story.
    Overall it was an excellent listen and if you like sound effects it will be splendid.

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jo Green Cordova, TN, United States 12-02-12
    Jo Green Cordova, TN, United States 12-02-12 Member Since 2014

    Grandma bibliophile! Audible books make reading with an active life possible.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    29
    ratings
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    "Swashbuckler of the unusual kind!"

    The story and the narration were absolutely fabulous. It was almost like a movie with some of the sound effects, and acting. The story is about a swordsman and his friend/lover that he is constantly getting out of trouble, and political machinations of some really evil/stupid/self-serving people. OK they aren't all stupid, just one, but sneaky and conniving fits the bill. Wonderful listen, entertaining throughout. Great characters that I really had to love or dislike. I was glad there was a second book waiting.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 11-20 of 84 results PREVIOUS1239NEXT
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  • Beccameriel
    London, United Kingdom
    6/4/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Witty and sophisticated fantasy"

    I LOVED this book. A fully realized fantasy world without some kind of magic is quite a novelty and this really works. The differences between the rich and poor societies are carefully drawn and totally believable. Most of the characters are quite world-weary and louche - I especially enjoyed the Duchess of Tremontaine who was rather reminiscent of the Marquise de Merteuil in Les Liasons Dangereuse (no idea if I spelt that lot right). It's refreshing, too, that everyone has a fluid sexuality - you love who you love and it doesn't matter what gender they are.

    Ellen Kushner narrates her own story very well and I think the partial dramatization and use of sound effects does help to draw you into the world. It's a really interesting approach to audio books and one that I hope to hear more often. I'm currently imagining how awesome this would be for Patrick Rothfuss's books.

    I am definitely going to get the next book in the series.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Ms
    London, United Kingdom
    3/2/12
    Overall
    "The games the rich play"

    Interesting narration/dramatisation of a novel I hadn't come across before. I enjoyed the mirrored dance of manners, intrigue, swordplay and personal relationships. Something a little different for jaded palates.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Jan
    Newton Abbot, United Kingdom
    1/31/12
    Overall
    "Wonderful!"

    Although I'm a relative newcomer to Swordspoint, I love the world of Riverside and its characters. I really like the unique way this audiobook was presented - part narration, part dramatised, part sound effects. It brings Riverside and the Hill to life.

    The right voice reading an audiobook makes all the difference, and in this case Ellen Kushner reading her own story is perfect. I can't wait for the sequels to be given the same treatment!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Alex
    MalakoffFrance
    11/25/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Unusual, intriguing and mixed"

    The performance is indeed a performance - although there is one main reader, some of the characters are played by other actors and, sporadically, there are background noises and voices. Overall it works very well. Unfortunately, the main reader is not particularly good, and not really up to it. She is nevertheless good enough to not be annoying.

    Similarly, the story is unusual - a fantasy world, without magic based (I presume) on the elaborate elegance, manners and class obsession of the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe. The characters are well-constructed and plausible, although none are particularly likeable; the story is interesting and kept me listening, wanting to know how it would evolve and end up.

    Overall, this is more historical romance and intrigue than fantasy and adventure. A good listen, and I think I will be listening to more of the series.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • nogginthenog
    uk
    7/8/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Definitely enhanced!"
    What did you like most about Swordspoint?

    What's not to like about this book?


    Have you listened to any of the narrators’s other performances? How does this one compare?

    Very often authors reading their own work don't really do it justice. This isn't one of them - Ellen Kushner does a fabulous job, aided and abetted by a few others. I could forgive Gaiman anything for putting this together!


    Any additional comments?

    Although actually I have a confession - I read Ellen Kushner's Thomas the Rhymer and loved it so much that I rushed out and bought Swordspoint. (the paper version) It just didn't do it for me though: I put it to one side and forgot about it. Then I stumbled across this audio recording, listened to a sample and thought I'd give it another go. So glad I did - it had me absolutely gripped. For some reason, I found it came across better listening to it than reading it ... the recording is absolutely perfect with the sound effects and the brief dramatized sections enhancing rather than detracting from the whole. When it finished I rushed straight off to download the sequel, which I am currently listening to and is every bit as good. Go try!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • nicole
    United Kingdom
    5/15/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A book that made me rearrange my top ten"

    In this city the rich use swordsmen to settle their disputes, either to first blood or death. Swordsmanship is both art, entertainment and noble way to settle disputes with important political and social decisions often depending on the outcome. On the face of it the noble with the most money should always win, as he or she should be able to hire the best swordsman but the best swordsman is Richard St. Vier. Coldly practical towards life and death and caring very little for anything other than the honor and challenge of his art and the whims of his love, Alec, Richard is not so easy to manipulate. Alec is, brilliant, damaged, contemptuous of the politics of the rich and fascinated by death. So the balance of power swings back and forth between the rich on the Hill and the poor in Riverside.

    There are very few `good' people (by today's standards) here, as those people would soon have been destroyed or corrupted by the harsh world they live in. Kushner's characters are so vivid and alive and I grew to love them partly because of their flaws. Ellen Kushner has an extensive grasp of the English language, which enhances her descriptions and makes the conversations between her characters so much more interesting.There aren't copious amounts of sex scenes or vapid declarations of love here, the romance is in their actions and the sacrifices they make for each other.

    Even though Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners has been published for many years now, I've still never read anything like it. There are hints of Les Liaisons dangereuses, with the social and political intrigue becoming inseparable from each other and the way most characters attempt to manipulate others, even those they may care for. It's also in the regency like setting of the story. This fantasy world has no magic or monsters (that are not in human form) but the dark fairy tale like nature of the story and beautifully described world also reminds me of Anne Bishops' writing.

    The narration is both brilliant and problematic. This is because it keeps switching between the author whom I loved and the actors who were also very good but it ended up giving you two very different voices for the main characters.

    I wasn't sure about this series at first but I gradually grew to love it so much that I've had to change my top ten audio book series. However, while it's an inelegant description, be warned this is Marmite. From the reviews it is fifty, fifty whether you will love it or hate it. Since Audible has such a good returns policy however, do you really have anything to loose by giving it a try?

    If you love this book as much as I do there is another book called The Naked City which includes a 45 minute short story, bridging the gap between Swordspoint and it's sequel The Privilege of the Sword both can be purchased from Audible.

    The site below also gives the chronology of the series including links to several of the short stories available on line. Do not read out of order or you will get huge spoilers.

    http://www.sff.net/people/kushnersherman/kushner/world.html

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • SallyH
    West Yorkshire
    1/29/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Meh"
    Any additional comments?

    A moderately interesting story, but I just couldn't care about any of the characters. In particular, why were Richard and Alec together? There didn't seem to be any warmth or affection between them. They were both cold, damaged and unavailable.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Terry
    Surrey, United Kingdom
    6/5/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Disappointing"

    Maybe I was expecting too much for my intro to Ellen Kushner, but I blame that on the publicity I read before adding this audio book to my wishlist. For me, the story seemed weak with little scope and I actually found the multiple narrators a distraction not a bonus. Sorry, but I like to hear the same character's voice throughout. In this audio book it was Ellen Kushner one moment and then another narrator the next and this happened with a number of the characters. A semi-play format may have seemed a really good idea but it just did not work for me.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • number phobia
    9/14/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "last 3 chapters held story. hard slog"
    If this book wasn’t for you, who do you think might enjoy it more?

    The contrast with narrators was for me off putting,, it meant I needed to re listen to who was who. The story lacked lustre and a bit uninteresting. Sorry author.


    What will your next listen be?

    GAme of thrones Dragon series


    How could the performance have been better?

    Forget the extra voices unless they're the same throughout


    You didn’t love this book--but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    Not many


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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