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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 (808 )
5 star
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3.4 (720 )
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3.9 (719 )
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    Dustin Thornton, CO, United States 08-27-12
    Dustin Thornton, CO, United States 08-27-12 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    16
    ratings
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    7
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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

    HELPFUL VOTES
    11
    ratings
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    83
    16
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    2
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    Story
    "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
    3
    ratings
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    14
    1
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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
    40
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    142
    30
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    2
    18
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "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
    ratings
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    143
    5
    FOLLOWERS
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    0
    1
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "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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    8
    4
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    0
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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
    REVIEWS
    55
    9
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "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 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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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
  •  
    Rebecca Cavanna 07-17-14 Listener Since 2010

    avid reader

    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
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    139
    3
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    0
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    "terrible"
    What disappointed you about Swordspoint?

    Unfortunately everything was a disappointment. I now understand why there are so few books in this genre. It's incredibly lame. The actors, and there are many, are pompous and silly. There's really no point to the story. I'm super disappointed because I LOVE Neil Gaiman, however, this one really really really missed the mark.


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    not sure, I'm going to need a break after this one


    How could the performance have been better?

    The horrible over-acting and ridiculous inflections. Tone it down, I couldn't tell if the writing was pretty or not because the reading was awful.


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

    Frustration, annoyance and finally total disappointment.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Leslie W M 07-16-14
    Leslie W M 07-16-14 Member Since 2002
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    6
    3
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Not a Melodrama of Manners"

    This book is more like an action movie. It is not a "melodrama of manners". If you like tough talk and fisticuffs-- well there are several hours of it to be found here. But that's all there is.

    There is a bad guy, and an unlikely but clever hero. There is also insult humor. Mostly, the hero makes fun of how stupid everyone else is. And people get beat up.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 71-80 of 83 results PREVIOUS1789NEXT
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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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