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[Reading Group] April 2014: Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner

Discussion in 'Novels & Stories' started by Philip Overby, Mar 17, 2014.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Our April 2014 classics themed book will be Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner.

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    Please borrow or purchase the book in your preferred format and begin reading it. We'll start discussion on April 1st, 2014.

    Some info about Swordspoint:

    Hailed by critics as “a bravura performance” (Locus) and “witty, sharp-eyed, [and] full of interesting people” (Newsday), this classic melodrama of manners, filled with remarkable plot twists and unexpected humor, takes fantasy to an unprecedented level of elegant writing and scintillating wit. Award-winning author Ellen Kushner has created a world of unforgettable characters whose political ambitions, passionate love affairs, and age-old rivalries collide with deadly results.

    Spoiler(-ish?) synopsis:

    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.

    I'd never heard of this book before it was nominated, so I'm excited to see how it turns out. It sounds like a unique reading experience for sure.

    Amazon.com: Swordspoint (Riverside) eBook: Ellen Kushner: Kindle Store

    I would like to note, any pre-reading discussion can be had here at any point before April 1st, but let's keep it spoiler free. Still plowing through our March read, so I may not be able to get to this until right before April starts.

    Happy reading!
     
  2. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    I read this one about a year ago, at the recommendation of a fellow Scribe, but I admit to having forgotten a fair bit about it - it was one of those books I read during a binge where I read about 30 books in a month. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, though, so I must have liked it.
     
  3. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I just read the first chapter in about 5 minutes. I really like it so far. Beautiful descriptions and a sort of intriguing world I'd love to learn more about. It feels like a book that lets you just immerse yourself in the world instead of explaining everything, which I like. At this rate, I may finish this book before His Majesty's Dragon, but I'm determined to finish that one as well.

    Gets a thumbs up from me for Chapter 1 in any case!
     
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    If you like this one, Privilege of the Sword, which has a female protagonist, is also quite good. It's a bit more fast-paced and less lush in writing style, as I recall, but I enjoyed it a great deal. It is set in the same world.
     
  5. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    I recommend these books all the time. IN fact, it was Privilege of the Sword that really inspired WiR. I'm all down for reading this one, because I already own it and truthfully, I got a touch bored in the fourth chapter of Swordspoint, when the characters got a bit political and a touch confusing, but I'll read it with you all.
     
  6. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I know we're not reading this one yet officially, but just wanted to pop in and say I'm on Chapter 5 already and I find this book to be a breeze to read. Really cool world and is usually not the kind of fiction I'd probably read, but I'm finding it quite engaging. Thanks for the nomination, Steerpike!
     
  7. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    So for those who plan on reading Swordspoint with us, I looked ahead (my Kindle doesn't have a table of contents for this one) and there are 28 chapters. I think breaking it down like this might be good:

    Week 1: Chapters 1-6
    Week 2: Chapters 7-13
    Week 3: Chapters 14-20
    Week 4: Chapters 20-24
    Week 5: Chapters 25-28

    Of course you can read ahead as much as you like, but to avoid spoilers, either only talk about events that happen in these chapters during the designated week, or put your posts in spoiler tags.

    I feel like this is a fast read, so it may not take the whole month to finish it. Granted, I'm on Chapter 7 already, so maybe this won't be an issue for me. :)
     
  8. Aspasia

    Aspasia Sage

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    Oooh this looks like the sort of think I like :D I'm not sure whether I'll manage to get it and read it along with the reading group, but I'll sure be interested in how you all find it! Saving so I remember I wanted to read this ...
     
  9. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Aspacia: If you'd like to follow along and ask questions or anything, feel free to do so. If this group can help you make a decision if you want to get the book or not, I think that's a nice benefit. We can be your guinea pigs! :)
     
  10. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    OK, so April 1st is coming up soon so I wanted to pose some questions for the first block (Chapters 1-6). I've been speeding along on this novel so far (apologies again to those I didn't keep up with for His Majesty's Dragon), so I'm up to Chapter 8 now. Feel free to discuss whatever you want, but these are just some "kick start" questions.

    1. What do you think of the novel so far?

    2. Which character is your favorite as of yet?

    3. Do you find the world intriguing or does something seem to be lacking?

    4. What did you think of the opening scene with St Vier? (and why does St have no period after it :) )?

    5. What do you think of the relationship between St Vier and Alec?

    6. What do you think about Michael trying to become a swordsman?

    7. Have there been any scenes that confused you?
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    1. I enjoy the novel a great deal.

    2. St Vier is my favorite character. I like the Duchess as well, because I find her interesting.

    3. The world intrigues me. Swordspoint is localized, so you don't get a whole lot about the word at large, but I find the society and its interactions interesting.

    4. I thought the opening scene was well done. It introduced a character I like and raised a number of questions. St Vier doesn't have a period most likely because the author seems to be following the British style, which doesn't use one. Kushner is American, however.

    5. Alec is a bit of a brat and too brooding or moody for me to like him a lot as a person. I like him as a character because I think he is interesting. I thought the relationship between St Vier and Alec was interesting, in part because they're opposites in many ways.

    6. The interesting thing about Michael trying to become a swordsman is that it starts as a lark, as something to impress the Duchess Tremontaine. But as things move forward, it becomes more than that. I liked the progression. I like Michael well enough, and at times I felt a bit sorry for him.

    7. No.
     
  12. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    As far as style, I really like the lush descriptions and such. They're not overpowering to the point of being too dense, they're just enough. I'm enjoying the subtlety of character interactions as well. It's not something I usually enjoy, but I feel like Kushner is a skilled writer. Sometimes if a writer is skilled, I can get into content I normally wouldn't.

    My inclination is St Vier, but after reading the barge scene (which may be in Chapter 7? I can't remember) and seeing Micheal's training, he's starting to edge him out. Alec seems like a pompous twit, but that's why I like him as well. The Duchess is becoming more and more interesting as she reminds me of girls I liked when I was a teenager. :)

    I've long talked about how I want to read more fantasy that deals with smaller conflicts and doesn't span the world. This is one of them. I'm finding I don't need huge conflicts to interest me in a story as long as the characters and their goals are interesting to me. One thing that turned me off about His Majesty's Dragon was I felt like there was huge potential with the idea. I wanted more, but it felt like it was being held back for some reason. That was a story where I wanted more. This is the opposite. I feel like I don't want to know too much more about the world because I'm interested in this small slice of it.

    George R.R. Martin had a blurb about it saying how fantastic it is. I agree. This was a good example of a scene that had the right bit of action and intrigue for me.

    It feels like a mutual friendship that verges on servant-master. Alec is so brusque, it's a surprise to me that St Vier doesn't just run him through. But I guess they're relationship is stronger than that.

    I liked when he confronted St Vier and he was just like, "No. I don't train people." The end. Michael seems the type that doesn't give up easy. I like that about him so far.

    The part that Caged Maiden brought up confused me a little bit, but I powered through it. I may have to go back and read it to understand all the little nuances. I rarely would do that with a book, but this one of the first books I've read where the things that confuse me don't annoy me. It actually makes me want to re-read and catch things I didn't catch the first time. I'm picking up more and more as I go though, so I think I'm beginning to understand the relationships and how these people will ultimately cross each other. Something about it reminds me of Shakespeare for some reason.
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2014
  13. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    1. What do you think of the novel so far?
    I enjoy it.

    2. Which character is your favorite as of yet?
    The Duchess, but St Vier is a close second.

    3. Do you find the world intriguing or does something seem to be lacking?
    I think if I were to scrutinize, I would find many flaws - but for the sake of an exaggerated fantasy of political intrigue and gratuitous violence, the setting works just fine.

    4. What did you think of the opening scene with St Vier? (and why does St have no period after it)?
    I reblogged this relevant comic to my tumblr earlier.

    5. What do you think of the relationship between St Vier and Alec?
    I like it much better than the political stuff. They are enjoyable characters, although Alec is a bit too much of a brat for me to like him I enjoy the way he balances St Vier, and their relationship is almost... sweet. In a way. A strange way.

    6. What do you think about Michael trying to become a swordsman?
    I think nothing, to be honest. It's mildly amusing, but it's not something that interests me as much as his weird love triangle situation.

    7. Have there been any scenes that confused you?
    No, but I am confused as to why the more interesting part of the story gets chapters that are like 6 pages long and the court stuff goes on for about 800 pages per chapter. :/
     
  14. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

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    1. What do you think of the novel so far?

    I'm very much enjoying the book so far. The writing style is flashier than I usually like but it's so well done I find that I'm just burning through chapters.

    2. Which character is your favorite as of yet?

    For me it's got to be Alec. Yes, he's technically an asshole, but I actually like assholes a lot of the time. I like his sarcasm and I can seriously appreciate his apparent disdain for the rich. (technically not in this section but it's only chapter 7) "The rich… are looking particularly rich tonight."

    3. Do you find the world intriguing or does something seem to be lacking?

    I actually rather like the toned down small-scale setting. It gets the job done.

    4. What did you think of the opening scene with St Vier? (and why does St have no period after it)?

    I thought the opening was great. It did its job and had me hooked within a few paragraphs.

    5. What do you think of the relationship between St Vier and Alec?

    As I said Alec is my current favourite character and I do like the relationship between him and St Vier, mainly because you're not entirely sure who's the one 'in charge'. Alec bosses St Vier around, but that's only because St Vier lets him.

    6. What do you think about Michael trying to become a swordsman?

    I get the definite feeling that this is going to lead to a bunch of messy stuff. It's a time bomb if I ever saw one: one day he's going to get into fight and shit's gonna go down.

    7. Have there been any scenes that confused you?

    Nope.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  15. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Thanks for the comments so far everyone. I just noticed that St Vier and Alec are lovers. I didn't even realize that early on in the book. I think that explains their dynamic a bit more for me. I wasn't really sure why St Vier was helping him and doting on him, but I don't think it's about money, they just like each other a lot.
     
  16. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I'll be playing catch up on this one. Finishing Weeks's "Way of Shadows" first.
     
  17. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    It's not very overt in the early chapters, although the first chapter does say that they sleep in the same bed. I don't know if I would have picked up on it so early if I hadn't known that the author was gay before I'd read it the first time, though.
     
  18. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    One reason I like this book a lot so far is that it does something that I praised Prince of Thorns for, in that it doesn't necessarily dwell on explaining the nature of every single relationship right off the bat. So even though I missed that detail, I didn't feel like "Wait, a minute! Why didn't she spend more time on that earlier?" I like that subtlety in the characters and world-building.
     
  19. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

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    I must be in the minority so far. This book is a chore similar to Temeraire. I'm six chapters in and I have no idea what the conflict is, or why I should care about any character.
     
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I found that there was a lot of conflict going on. Much of it is in the form of intrigue, and also internal conflict. You have the external conflict among those in power, the internal and external conflicts of Michael. Largely internal conflict with Alec, though it manifests externally. Interestingly, of all characters St Vier has conflict that seems to be primarily external, both in presentation and resolution. I thought that was fitting given his position in the society.

    At any rate, this is my third read through, so obviously I like the book a lot. I won't read a book more than once if I don't. The sequels are great too (with Privilege of the Sword seeming to me to be more traditional in terms of structure, conflict, and so on).

    I think there is some flavor that is similar to Her Majesty's Dragon, which as I said in the discussion of that book is one that in theory I should like (I like period stories, books like Jane Eyre, and so on). But whereas I felt Novik didn't have the capability to pull off that kind of story, at least not in a way that interests me, I find Kushner's writing to be wonderfully engaging. My copy of Swordspoint has three short stories at the end, and I've not only finished the book already but read all three short stories. I'm on The Fall of the Kings now :)
     
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