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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 (857 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Connor 12-04-12
    Connor 12-04-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Swordspoint In Technicolor"
    If you could sum up Swordspoint in three words, what would they be?

    Dreamlike; complex; gorgeous.


    What did you like best about this story?

    So it's worth saying up front: there's nothing like Swordspoint. It's a perfect book. It does a lot of things at once. In the first place it's utterly unlike most fantasy in that it isn't obsessed with telling you in detail the backstory of every event and concept in its world. On the contrary, like fiction set in the world we know, it takes for granted a whole set of political and economic and geographic and cultural and historical commodities and builds a narrative inside that context, in the same way that novels generally don't bother explaining in detail the life of George Washington when mentioning the President of the United States, or the thoughts of Adam Smith when touching in passing on the division of labor.

    No, in contrast Swordspoint manages to call up a vivid, intoxicating world precisely by taking it for granted. The nameless city which provides the setting for almost the entire story contains several distinct cultures: notably one of elaborate and moneyed sophistication and one of raw, vital street exuberance. Both are ultimately cultures built on theater and violence, and Ellen works out the implications of those values in in their different contexts with narrative economy and luminous prose. Very shortly after the story begins you find yourself enraptured by this society, its subtlety and corruption, its tavern vitality. And it only gets better from there.

    Better than the setting, though, unlikely though that may seem, are the characters. Ellen creates a series of personalities who startle you with their intense reality; these are real people, with difficult and problematic psychologies, who choices frustrate as much as they surprise. That's as true of the leading couple as it is of the small supporting characters: even a passing background figure is a breathing reality and his presence in the story is justified by the astonishing reality of his selfhood as much as by his service to the plot. It's an amazing accomplishment.

    But beyond all these the story! It's just too good to be true, that you get all the above and as well as a story so rich and authentic. You have here a narrative of political intrigue, formal violence, intertwining plots, lavish parties, and really awesome swordplay. If you're reading this and you think you might like it I can lay you money that you'll love it. Give it a chance!


    Which scene was your favorite?

    Now separate from all the above is the incredible accomplishment of this production. Ellen herself is the perfect reader for the story, she's an experienced radio performer and a gifted vocal actor. Better, though, even than Ellen's own habitation of her characters, is the so-called "illuminated manuscript" of this glorious production. In the critical set-pieces -- where the characters on stage grow numerous and the scene grows vivid -- Ellen's narration gradually fades out to be replaced by a full-cast audio drama, accompanied by incidental music and sound effects. It mirrors the experience of Ellen reading you her masterpiece as you drowse in bed: sometimes you're listening to her telling you the story, and sometimes you're dreaming yourself into the story, complete with voice actors and the sound of waves against your lavish party barge. It's an incredible experience which kept me trapped in my car until I finished it. I find myself thanking the Internet several times a week for the miracle of this production: the fact that I get to keep it forever and listen to it whenever I want seems too good to be true.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Ellen, like Dorothy Dunnett, is the absolute master of extended set-pieces, and these are the grand moments of the book. You get, for example, an encounter between an experienced, ahem, lady of the evening of the people of her district discussing a recent swordfight, with the crowd arguing over who won and who died and who was responsible for the fight. You get a crowd of drawling aristocrats coasting over an ink-black winter river on a barge, covered in heavy furs and dining as fireworks detonate overhead. You get lovers torn apart by their own heavy pasts; you get political drama at the highest level of complexity and sophistication, ringing out in heavy phrases of ceremony in the halls of high justice. It's just impossible to say which of these is best; you'll see.


    Any additional comments?

    Once you hear Swordspoint you'll long for more. Happily there's plenty: Privilege of the Sword is already on Audible, and Fall of the Kings will be out soon. All produced and narrated by Ellen, all elaborated illuminated just like this. It's a beautiful world and you get to visit it whenever you like.

    3 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    chris 10-17-12
    chris 10-17-12 Member Since 2015

    whistle while you work, or listen to books

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "a bore"
    Would you try another book from Ellen Kushner and/or the narrators?

    i liked the narrator, and her reading her story lent it a true bent to what the author pictured. unfortunately that was boring characters and a story line that was long and drawn out.


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

    ended it about twenty chapters earlier.


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    disappointed in other peoples comments that made me have the idea it would be a good purchase. this book left much for wanting. i fell asleep with this on for about two hours and woke up none the worse for the plot line. if i did not have a desire to push through hard listens and a field job that requires long hours alone right now, i would have discarded this book hours ago. i finished it with a sigh of relief and the last four chapters drug on for hours it seemed.


    Any additional comments?

    she pushed the boundaries of sexuality, especially for the eighties, but pushed it right into a typical stereotype of gays, the flamboyant homosexual. i think she would have been better off writing about a lesbian couple where one was an unconventional swordsperson. this story was brutally boring and snobbish. i regret having listened to it, except for the comfort of knowing i pushed through a hard listen and came out unenlightened and disappointed in it. the only book on tape i have wished i had not bothered with, so far.

    skip this one, carry on. this is not the book you are looking for.

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dustin Thornton, CO, United States 08-27-12
    Dustin Thornton, CO, United States 08-27-12 Member Since 2007
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    "Promising story peppered with lingering erotica"

    I was excited about the Neil Gaiman production, the talented vocal cast and the "fairy tale for adults." All of that was there, but I did not expect the constant sexual content. Everyone appears to be bisexual and the pace of the novel ceases as every move and glance is described in uncomfortable detail. I found myself skipping forward through half the scenes and finally gave up halfway through.

    Disappointing, and I wish a review had tipped me off. It will not be a problem for many, but if detailed sex scenes between men and women or men and men are not what you are looking for, skip this book.

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rob 04-22-12
    Rob 04-22-12 Member Since 2012

    Robert

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    "There's Better"

    I listened to this book, my first dramatised audiobook, while I was taking a break from high fantasy. The story is definitely melodramatic! If you are looking at branching out from high fantasy like Tolkien, GRRM, Terry Brooks, or Jim Butcher - beware! This is not the book to come to. It reads like a stage act, which may have been the intent of the producers. I just could not enjoy the plot at all.

    If you are like me and do not care for gaudy levels of romance in your fantasy novels, look elsewhere, too.

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patrick Brookings, OR, United States 03-17-12
    Patrick Brookings, OR, United States 03-17-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A waste of time"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    People who like stories without a clear storyline.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Ellen Kushner again?

    I she ever learns to write coherently


    What didn’t you like about the narrators’s performance?

    Cheesy narration, cheesy sound effects


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

    All of the ridiculous fighting scenes with their prolonged sound effects accompanying the narration. Ellen Kushner needs to learn something about swordsmanship and the martial arts in general before she attempts to write coherently about these sequences. Combat sequences, especially if you are describing the actions of an individual with a high level of mastery in a form of combat should be decisive, not romanticized posing. I would recommend that Ellen Kushner would benefit from reading both The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings before attempting to write combat sequences.


    Any additional comments?

    From the just over half of this atrocious attempt at a fantasy novel that I was able to stomach I could not get a clear sense of where the storyline was going. The book seemed to be more of a vehicle for setting up disjointed romantic scenes between the various characters than providing a cohesive story.

    3 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer benson, AZ, United States 01-07-12
    Amazon Customer benson, AZ, United States 01-07-12 Member Since 2012

    Aging hippie

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not Jane Austin"

    Jane Austin wrote romance. This novel is not a romance. There is sex and political intrique but no romance. The sound effects are clunky and distracting. I read the novel before listening to this reading. I thought maybe I had not appreciated the novel by not reading it closely but the reading leaves no doubt. The characters are not interesting enough to sustain the reader's interest. Fancy language does equal a good plot.

    5 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patricia Hanlon 11-16-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
    11
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    5
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    "Wow, this was so boring"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    Having some action, and less talk.


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    Grimoire series.


    Did the narrators do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

    All right. Background sounds were annoying. They were OK, but they had pretty much just boring trite conversations. Nobody stood out as a character, and you didn't wonder what happened next. You wondered if anything was going to be interesting.


    What character would you cut from Swordspoint?

    Can't even remember who was who.


    Any additional comments?

    What good is it to have such a complicated cast, if the story goes no where and is so boring?

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    carmella1 EARLETON, FLORIDA, United States 07-10-12
    carmella1 EARLETON, FLORIDA, United States 07-10-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
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    "disappointed"
    If you could sum up Swordspoint in three words, what would they be?

    almost all gay


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    count of monte cristo


    Which scene was your favorite?

    first fight scene


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    no. i could only take so much


    Any additional comments?

    This book was not for me. Wish someone could have explained a little better before i bought it. But that does not mean its not for you.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Karen Bevan 09-23-14
    Karen Bevan 09-23-14 Member Since 2015
    ratings
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    60
    10
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    "Really Disappointing"
    Would you try another book from Ellen Kushner and/or the narrators?

    No


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    Something from an author I've previously enjoyed


    Would you be willing to try another one of the narrators’s performances?

    No


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

    No


    Any additional comments?

    The premise of the book intrigued me. But there were too many narrators, and the sounds effects left no room for imagination to take hold. The effects were a poor copy of those used in early radio shows which for me, further degraded any enjoyment I might have had. I will not pursue the rest of the series.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Reed Marlborough, NH, United States 09-08-14
    Reed Marlborough, NH, United States 09-08-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Ridiculous"

    I am a huge fan of both Neil Gaiman and the narrator Simon Jones. It was on the strength of their association with this book that I bought it, despite misgivings. I hoped, I suppose, that the many enthusiastic reviewers of the audiobook were onto something, and that the minority of negative reviewers were perhaps a bit trollish. Well, I'm voting with the trolls.

    I might have tolerated this book well enough if the whole thing had been read by, say, Stephen Briggs or Simon Jones -- both masters of many voices. Either one could say every name on a half-page in the phone book in a convincingly distinct voice. Instead, this book was read by many different men and women who spoke essentially alike. Incredibly, the main narrator (the book's author) sometimes reads her characters' voices and sometimes other people do. It was just a mess.

    The idiom of the written book was overtly British, featuring an array of titled nobles. But unlike any noble of my acquaintance, the audio characters all spoke in nearly identical American accents. Apart from the author, the character actors sound like students -- and not even not drama majors at that -- reading dialog they wrote for a school play. It was so cognitively dissonant, and fell so short of the standard of narration that I expected, that I could barely focus on the story. Not to mention the absurd background sound effects; don't let's even start on that!

    The author was a better reader than most of the other voices, but not a lot better. I tried to listen and follow the thread, hoping if I got engaged in the story I could tune out the goofy reading, but nearly every time a character spoke, I found myself imagining how much more authentically the lines could have been delivered. "I think we should get a cat of our own," for example, as opposed to, "I-ee think WEee should get a cat of our OWN." Who eNUNciates like THAT? Nearly every line of dialog was so over-acted that I'd have laughed if it hadn't been so grating.

    I got about a third of the way through the book, and since I knew I was going to return it for a refund, I stopped listening. I needed something refreshing for the rest of my drive, so I turned to a random place in one of my favorite Terry Pratchett Discworld books, The Truth, read by Stephen Briggs. I happened upon a scene where half a dozen aristocratic men of similar age are seated in darkness around a table. Stephen Briggs' reading -- always astounding -- is here beyond brilliant. I know every one these people! -- or at least I know their kind from British costume dramas. Every cadence, every intonation, every pitch is so unique to each unnamed character that I could be eavesdropping on six living, breathing, upper-class British men sitting in total darkness around my own table!

    I am not sure whether or not I would have liked the book had it been read by a master narrator (probably not), but this rendition was ridiculous.



    0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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