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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 (866 )
5 star
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3.4 (776 )
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Story
3.9 (774 )
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    Laura Cypress, TX, United States 08-14-13
    Laura Cypress, TX, United States 08-14-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
    19
    ratings
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    8
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    "Decent book, but a warning"

    Altogether, this was an acceptable book; I didn't get really interested in the plot until the first half was almost over. Other reviews have addressed the shortcomings and good parts of the book, so I won't repeat them. I do want to point out, because it isn't clear in the other reviews or the summary of the book, that there is a LOT of homosexuality. Nothing particularly explicit, but very intimate. If that is something you don't want to hear about repeatedly, then you should avoid this book.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeremiah United States 06-12-13
    Jeremiah United States 06-12-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
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    1
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    "Not a big fan"
    What disappointed you about Swordspoint?

    Pretty much the entire experience of this book was disappointing. I snagged it due to the awesome reviews. The story line was interesting, but tit never really sat well with me. I must admit I was not a huge fan of the whole gay main characters. I was more interested in the fancy sword play intrigue of why they needed swordsman to fight duels and the description of the duels themselves. I understand how the characters played into it, but for me it just caused me to lose interest. There was no avert sexual descriptions or truly erotic nature.

    On top of this it was a cross between a narration and a drama. Sometimes characters would have their own voices, and others the author would be narrating. I was never sure when it would appear or why it would appear. I actually think I would have enjoyed it more if the whole book was voice actors with sound effects. Much more. This whole back and forth and it randomly starting up just drew me away from the book. It took me a month to finish such a short book. I would put off listening to it for the radio more times than not and decided to muscle my way through it.

    It was definitely interesting to have the author read the book because the dialogue became how she intended it. The enunciation was what she had in her head when she was writing it. I definitely


    The intrigue was good. It was quite interesting to see the plays moved by characters for power. This was almost as huge a point as the duels if not even more so. I almost feel like it would be a good arc in its own right.

    This is just one man's opinion and as such it is an opinion. I am sure if you talk to others they will appreciate it.


    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Deborah 05-25-13
    Deborah 05-25-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Boring story, poorly read"

    Neil Gaiman's glowing review attracted me to this title. What a mistake. No wit, flat characters, and annoying voices. As a Jane Austen fan, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that this story has none of Austen's wit or depth of human understanding. I am baffled by the comparison. Really disappointing.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Yvonne Southfield, mi, United States 09-05-12
    Yvonne Southfield, mi, United States 09-05-12 Member Since 2015

    Say something about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
    175
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    140
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    "A classic witty melodrama"

    First, the narrators did an EXCELLENT job. The various voices added texture, individualism, and character to the interesting people in the fantasy of old world elegance.

    Light Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night there are plot twist, lovers misunderstanding, old rivalries and new alliances, humor, loyalty and chivalry which makes this a enjoyable book to hear.

    In Riverside the biggest dived between if you are a noble or not is which side of the river you live. It is the time when you live and die by the sword and the rules which apply, to you living or dying, depend on if you are a noble or not.

    Richard St Vier is the pre-eminent swordsman who earns his living by fighting for the nobles. Alec is a former university student with a taste for danger and self-destruction and is St. Vier companion and lover.

    When the machinations of the nobles effect Richard and Alex cause Richard to change the rules of the sword and impacts the residents on both sides of Riverside.

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    India Fitzgerald VA, USA 08-06-12
    India Fitzgerald VA, USA 08-06-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
    ratings
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    2
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    "Stunning. Something different for fans of fantasy."
    If you could sum up Swordspoint in three words, what would they be?

    Believable, captivating, and enchanting.


    What did you like best about this story?

    I loved the intricate details and descriptions set forth by the author. Not one thing is left out, and her cast of characters are all richly defined. You can -see- the world, instead of just imagining it.


    What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

    All of the narrators - Kushner, and guests, perfectly captured the nuances that make the characters human and believable. So many audiobooks glaze over those subtleties, which leaves a rather gaping hole. Not so with this work. Every one is done to excellence, hitting the nail on the proverbial head.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Both. Always both. It's an emotional journey from beginning to end.


    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bronwyn Soell Illinois, United States 07-29-12
    Bronwyn Soell Illinois, United States 07-29-12 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Splendid :) A real treat!"

    I've loved this book for years for its elegant prose and detailed and interesting world and sense of honor, danger and romance. It is a great example of the 'show don't tell' theory of storytelling and really sets the standard for classic modern fantasy.

    I've never been a huge fan of full cast recordings of audiobooks. I find many of them to be sort of overdone- all the background noise, various voice actors, etc. can just turn the story into a mish mash that can ruin the prose you enjoyed in the book in the first place.

    So when I read that Swordspoint was being produced with a full cast, I was not enthused. Until I saw that it was being produced by Neil Gaiman and read by Ellen Kushner herself. I knew that if anyone could do it up right, it would be these two and my trust in them more than paid off.

    This is simply lovely- deliriously fun and witty and clever to listen to. The background noise and actors are unobtrusive and a perfect counterpoint to Ms. Kushner's reading as well as the other actors who also portray the main characters. If you love fantasy, just get it and let yourself fall into Riverside. You'll be glad you went.

    11 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Terrell Houston, TX, United States 04-13-12
    Terrell Houston, TX, United States 04-13-12 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
    7
    ratings
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    "Pointless"
    What did you like best about Swordspoint? What did you like least?

    The book had excellent production value. Nothing distracted me from listening to the story. The problem was that it was about characters that I never managed to develop an interest in.


    What could Ellen Kushner have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    Make me at some point feel that the story was heading somewhere.


    Which character – as performed by the narrators – was your favorite?

    I had no favorite.


    Did Swordspoint inspire you to do anything?

    Delete the book from my computer.


    Any additional comments?

    I found it highly ironic to have a book about swordplay that to me seemed completely pointless.

    7 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ashley greenwood, AR, United States 05-01-12
    ashley greenwood, AR, United States 05-01-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not what I expected....."

    The title and the introduction are misleading. The story is just plain boring and I love both fantasy book and Jane Austen

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Noell San Juan Capistrano, CA, United States 01-16-12
    Noell San Juan Capistrano, CA, United States 01-16-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
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    "Great story telling, the story not so much."

    Kushner is an excellent storyteller- that much I cannot deny. She paints a picture of Riverside and its band of cutthroats most wonderfully, contrasted with the Hill and its somewhat more sophisticated nobles. However, I did not expect the casualness of the sexuality of the characters. For example, Michael goes from making love to a female to Lord Horn, an old gentleman friend of his mother's. I did not expect this. One of the reasons I chose this book was because it was one of Neil Geiman's favorites and it had the voice talent of Katherine Kelgren. The dramatization is great, the author's narration superb, and the action scenes spectacular- but the characters themselves do not really move me nor do their various escapades.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    christina 12-09-11
    christina 12-09-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    "Love the story, hate the enhancement"
    What did you like best about Swordspoint? What did you like least?

    I love the story, I love Ellen Kushner's narration, but I hate the sound effects.

    What I love about audio books is what I love about books. I love reading or being read to. Audio books let me listen and let the authors words and my mind together create a world, a place, a feeling. It's different than movies. It's not passive - it collaborative. It's calming yet nourshing mind and soul food.

    This


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

    Narration was prefect, authentic, wouldn't change a thing.


    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
Sort by:
  • 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.

    4 of 4 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 1 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 1 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 2 people found this review helpful

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