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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 (762 )
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3.9 (681 )
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Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    Bonnie B. Matheson Charlottesville, VA United States 12-06-12
    Bonnie B. Matheson Charlottesville, VA United States 12-06-12 Member Since 2010

    BonnieB23

    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
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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
  •  
    chris 10-17-12
    chris 10-17-12 Member Since 2012

    whistle while you work, or listen to books

    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
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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
    HELPFUL VOTES
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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

    Robert

    HELPFUL VOTES
    7
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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
    3
    ratings
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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 2011

    Aging hippie

    HELPFUL VOTES
    22
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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
    9
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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 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
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    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
  •  
    Corey Brookyln, NY, United States 01-17-12
    Corey Brookyln, NY, United States 01-17-12 Member Since 2009

    Hi, I'm an alumi of NYU and I'm also huge into MMA. I love books I read a lot and review the stand outs. I'll give you guys the goods.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    168
    ratings
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    "DUDE ITS KINDA GAY"
    What would have made Swordspoint better?

    Less man love more fighting


    What was most disappointing about Ellen Kushner???s story?

    the man love killed it for me .... Brokeback moutain style


    What does the narrators bring to the story that you wouldn???t experience if you just read the book?

    Yes it was done very nicely


    What character would you cut from Swordspoint?

    ........... I don't know where to start


    3 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    K.D. Keenan Northern California 12-15-11
    K.D. Keenan Northern California 12-15-11 Member Since 2004

    1emp

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    65
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    8
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    "Wanted To Love This Book--But Didn't"
    Any additional comments?

    Love fantasy, love Jane Austin, love Neil Gaiman, so I was sure I would love this book when Neil says

    1 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 71-80 of 81 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
  • 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 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
  • Sally
    Wakefield, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom
    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
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