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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 (855 )
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3.9 (763 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Joe Frazier Cary, NC USA 07-03-14
    Joe Frazier Cary, NC USA 07-03-14 Member Since 2014

    a dedicated dilettante

    HELPFUL VOTES
    60
    ratings
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    "A Meta & Actual Review"

    Swordspoint is a particularly good example of the challenges of book selling in a world of genre focus and the challenges of making your work known. Swordspoint has been called a "melodrama of manners", a fantasy, a high romance and a fairy tale for grown ups. To me, it seems like an alternate world history novel about the political and sexual intrigues of court. Obviously that's not a genre. One distinguishing feature of the novel, and possibly the fantasy element, is that nearly all of the men are bisexual; none of the women are depicted this way

    Her descriptions, characters, pacing (for a book on court intrigues) and world creation are spot on. It is a testament to her writing that I became invested in what happened to Richard. Her descriptions present the world of Riverside in such a way that I feel as though I've furtively traveled through the streets or wandered up the Hill. It's also described in such a way, that I wouldn't like to visit, let alone live there. The characters who peopled her story were often complex and clever. Ironically, the two people who seemed to have the best character were killers: Richard St Vier and Vincent Applethorpe (a former swordsman who ran a fencing school).

    It is a well built world I don't care for peopled with complex characters that I mostly don't like and has as its main focus clever politicking and sexual intrigue amongst the lords of the city which I don't prefer as a focus. If you like this stuff (and the bisexual element doesn't bother you), then you'll like Ms. Kushner's book.

    I had an opportunity to listen to much of the audiobook (I went between the Kindle and Audible versions using Whispersync for Voice). Overall, it nicely done. It was not quite a full audio play but it was a multi-cast reading with sound effects. While Ms. Kushner has solid narration skills developed doing radio with WGBH (Boston), the tone in her voice is not my favorite. She does a nice job of narration; this is simply personal preference.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rusty 01-31-14
    Rusty 01-31-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Disappointing"

    I made a vow this year to try to write "positive" negative reviews, as in, I didn't like this, but you might like it if...but in some cases I feel I've gotten a bait and switch based on the description of a book and my temper flairs.

    I wouldn't be quite so hard on this book if it weren't for the fact that it won an audie award and was championed by Neil Gaiman. This book was described as Jane Austin-esque fantasy with a "supporting cast" and "soundscapes."

    Firstly, I get zero Jane Austin from this. It is primarily an action adventure book. Yes, there are scenes of people having dinner or tea and chatting, but also scenes of swordplay ending in death and fairly graphic sex scenes, which are not REALLY something you'd find in Pride and Prejudice.

    The supporting cast pops in from time to time and this is quite jarring. Imagine, you've been listening to the main narrator doing all the voices for half an hour, then randomly, another actor pops in for a few lines. Huh?

    The sound effects are completely random. Why they chose to highlight certain sounds is beyond me. So...no sound effects for a whole scene, then a loud sound of a piece of paper being crumpled. Or, sudden clicking tea cups when that isn't even a plot point, they are just drinking tea.

    The occasional music was fine.

    Finally, if you are sensitive to adverbs, which I didn't think I was, you will lose your mind. "He said, archly, darkly, quickly, slyly, overtly, snidely..." I'm okay with adverbs but at some point they signal that the author fears the reader will not understand the state of mind of the person speaking. And, really, I didn't.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer 01-30-14 Member Since 2012
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    "disliked this book."

    I did not like this book. It was slow, tedious and boring. The plot seemed to meander. The characters were depressing with few redeeming qualities.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bleu Chicago, IL, United States 07-22-13
    Bleu Chicago, IL, United States 07-22-13 Member Since 2010

    Graphic Designer. Culinary Enthusiast. Mostly User Friendly.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Unique and Well-Written"

    When I started listening to this book, I was excited to realize that this was an Audible Neil Gaiman Presents selection -- the first that I've listened to. In his opening introduction, he states that "It's as if Jane Austen wrote fantasy... an imaginary world where the characters are real people..." He had me at Jane Austen, of course, and if Jane Austen were a tad spicier, a fair amount darker, and had dealt with same-sex romance, that would be about right. I had a little trouble following all of the intrigue in audio form, even with the theatrical multi-voice narration. I do tend to have trouble with those sort of entwining storylines in general, though. I thought this was a very well-written book, and interesting in it's uniqueness. It felt like a mix of Fantasy and Regency Romance, but with a darker Historical Fiction sort of underbelly that made it seem a lot more real-world than those genres usually do.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer bellevue, NE, United States 07-17-13
    Amazon Customer bellevue, NE, United States 07-17-13 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "It's a chess game."

    Some may not be able to find the actual plot line in this story, It took me 2 listens to realize just what the heck was going on. It finally dawned on me that the story is a chess game, and like a chess game it's the lower pieces that get the most play. I also paid attention to which scenes were dramatized, as it says in the forward "key scenes" that apparently was a hint. I rather liked it even if some of the sound effects were more distracting, I really LOVED that the background talking is actual talking, with lines, instead of people mumbling under their breath.
    If you find watching a chess game riveting, this story may be for you.
    If you like understated gay romance between 2 amoral men, this story may be for you.
    If you like subterfuge and puzzles and a plot line that takes actual work to understand, this story may be for you.
    It was for me.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cindy Pinson, TN, United States 07-10-13
    Cindy Pinson, TN, United States 07-10-13 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Warning for those who are uneasy with same sex sex"
    What disappointed you about Swordspoint?

    None of the reviews I read mentioned same sex sex scenes.


    Has Swordspoint turned you off from other books in this genre?

    Only if they have same sex sex scenes.


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

    Haven't listened much - chapter 7 or 8 so far and I've enjoyed the performance style.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Swordspoint?

    I wouldn't say any need to be cut for those who aren't bothered by same sex sex. It just unsettles me and I wish there was a warning so I could move on...


    Any additional comments?

    I'd like a refund!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sarah West Lebanon, NH, United States 06-29-13
    Sarah West Lebanon, NH, United States 06-29-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "engaging and entertaining"

    A fun and engaging book. I listened to the whole thing in one go. (Not sure I'd compare it to Austen, though...)

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Debra smithfield, NC, USA 05-28-13
    Debra smithfield, NC, USA 05-28-13 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Boring!"
    What was most disappointing about Ellen Kushner’s story?

    I listened to the second book in the series first and am so glad I did. It was wonderful! If I had listened to this one first however, I would have never listened to the second. This one lacked the character development and adventure of the second. It really dragged and the political structure was confusing.


    Any additional comments?

    Skip this one and move on to the next!

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Georgia Plymouth, MA, United States 02-11-13
    Georgia Plymouth, MA, United States 02-11-13 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not my cup of tea."

    I tought this was a rather bizarre book. Maybe I am terribly dense, but through most of the book I was left wondering what was the point, and where is the story headed. I found it difficult to relate to the characters and the story line. The narration was fine, and the performance background was a great idea, but the book did not help matters.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bonnie B. Matheson Charlottesville, VA United States 12-06-12
    Bonnie B. Matheson Charlottesville, VA United States 12-06-12 Member Since 2013

    BonnieB23

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Historic fiction??? Just a really bad book."
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    A true plot, characters whom one would care about, and less contrived writing.


    Has Swordspoint turned you off from other books in this genre?

    No, because I am not sure to which genre this book actually belongs. It is supposed to be a fantasy, yet it seems the author goes to great lengths to make it read as if it were not fantastic.


    What three words best describe the narrators’s voice?

    uncultured
    insincere
    boring


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

    No, not really. It just seemed to be one of the most self conscious, tatted up, over embellished books I have ever read.


    Any additional comments?

    Don't bother unless you are young and inexperienced and know little of history.

    3 of 6 people found this review helpful

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