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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

    I'm getting to some pretty wild stuff now.

    SPOILERS ahead for those who are behind.

    Gone now? OK, spoilers:

    1. I loved that Michael didn't get his chance to fight St Vier and his teacher took the fall as well. It was also nice to see St Vier actually meet someone who challenged him.

    2. Alec's short imprisonment by Horn was rather entertaining. His subsequent drug use is also interesting. I feel like Alec is just this complete human train wreck that is ultimately going to cost St Vier his head (although if it does, I haven't got to that part yet)

    3. Apparently Ferris still wants St Vier to take care of Halliday but with all the chaos going on, St Vier may not get to do it. Interested to see how that turns out.

    I agree with Ophiucha that St Vier and Alec are infinitely the most interesting characters in the book. Michael fell by the wayside a bit, but I did like how the duchess has taken him under her wing. I feel like there must be some ulterior motive to that though.

    The intrigue! :D

    This seems to go back to the "everything is too clean" criticism of His Majesty's Dragon. I felt it was apt there, but here something about the world Kushner created feels more real to me. It does some people are either fighting, chatting, or lounging about for the most part, but I just get this feeling things are a lot slower. It's not a dark world even though there are dark elements to it. I kind of feel like there is this man who comes behind everyone and cleans up dead bodies with little white gloves on.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2014
  2. ACSmyth

    ACSmyth Minstrel

    I'm up to the drug use, and honestly don't know what I think of this book.

    For the first 100 pages or so I couldn't see any point to it, and it was a real struggle to be bothered. I'm a bit more engaged now, but it still seems to be unclear where it's going or what it's trying to achieve. The roadbumps, such as they are, are being overcome rather easily and I've not yet feared for any of the characters. The one I was hoping would prove interesting has just been despatched by St Vier. So much for that, then!

    I'd really hoped to be absorbed by St Vier and Alec by now, but somehow they aren't coming off the page the way I wanted them to. They are, dare I say it, rather flat. It's all very pretty and the prose is nice, but I'm imagining lace cuffs and velvet jackets rather than dirt and thieves and challenges and villainy.

    Actually, maybe that's part of it. Maybe the prose is getting between me and the setting. Hmmm.
  3. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    This is another case for me where style wins out out. I found His Majesty's Dragon's style very plain and didn't really have any characters that hooked me. Whereas Kushner's style is a little different than I'm used to, so I'm just enjoying it more. I wouldn't say this is my favorite book I've ever read, but it's the kind of book that I've enjoyed because I normally don't like stories with rich people problems.
  4. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I guess most everyone that's reading along is wrapping this one up. I'm about 70 percent so far on my Kindle (not sure how many pages) but I think I'm towards the end. Some final thoughts as I'm going toward the end:

    I'm actually finding that the story so far after St Vier's capture to be kind of drier than the earlier parts. While I really dug the early part of this book, I feel like it's kind of dragging towards the end. I'm not sure why this is, but I don't really feel as compelled to see how things pan out with any of the characters other than St Vier and Alec. I was really into Michael's character (or was starting to get into it) then when he was hidden somewhere I just had less interest in him after that.

    I do like some of the minor characters like Ginnie Vandal and Katherine, but I can't say I feel the same about Ferris or any of the other characters that have PoVs. Since Lord Horn is dead, I feel like one of the more compelling characters is gone. Which is fine, but no one's really stepped in to fill his place.

    So while I have liked a lot of this story more than others, I'm having pushing myself toward the end since these PoV characters I'm not as interested in keep cropping up.

    Which begs a question I'm sure a lot of writers think about: is it good to limit PoVs in a story so this doesn't happen? I found the same with GRRM's books. I always find certain characters I really love, then I get slightly disappointed when I have to spend time with characters I'm not as interested in. I guess that's the way things go though.

    Anyone else have opinions about the other PoV characters?
  5. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

    It's a tricky thing to balance. I've been there. I love Rand in the Wheel of Time. If the book was written from his PoV only, I would have no problem with it. Until I read a chapter in Lan's PoV. Matt's and Perrin's, too.

    Then there are those characters that drive you nuts! Why do I have to read about Gawain? Who cares about Thom?

    This is the problem. Everyone likes a certain PoV. There is no way of guarantying that all would like the same.

    An interesting note. I didn't like Arya in the books. I find her character in the show fascinating.
  6. ACSmyth

    ACSmyth Minstrel

    I didn't mind all the POVs in WoT, until he started bringing in obscure Aes Sedai and I had quite literally NO idea who this woman was. So I coasted through that bit, figuring if it was important I'd work it out eventually.

    Apart from the dread book 10, the worst bit for me was when he went nearly 2 books without a Perrin POV. I even went back to see if he'd died and I'd somehow missed it, he was gone so long. I really liked Perrin, and my main focus became "When am I going to get another Perrin bit?" But as long as they are better spaced (nearly 2 books. *facepalm*) I don't mind the swapping about.

    I've finished Swordspoint, and my reaction is "Meh."

    I still think the characters were flat. I really wanted to know and care about Richard and Alec and just didn't. I got a bit frustrated with it, but appreciate that what I wanted was the story written to my preferences and specifications, and life isn't like that. My main grouse I think was that I never understood the Richard/Alec dynamic. They were lovers, yet a lot of the time they didn't even seem to like each other much. Richard would kill someone for looking sideways at Alec, yet it was all very clinical. I like emotion from characters, and while I felt it should have built towards something and then had some sort of crescendo, like a piece of music, it all stayed on a single note. And yes, Richard is a killer and cold and calculating and so on, but the only emotion we really hear about in the book was a couple of lines of his backstory of how he killed his girlfriend.

    This was an "It's OK" 2 star for me on Goodreads. Might squeak a 3rd star on Amazon's system, on a good day. Interesting to see a story with LGBT characters from the 80s (it was the 80s, wasn't it?) I'd imagine that was pretty rare in fantasy back then, the occasional gay dragonrider notwithstanding.
  7. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    Yeah, 1987 I think.

    On that note, was I the only one who had to go to the LGBT section to find this book at the store? My local place doesn't put it in the fantasy section. :p

    I rarely love having multiple perspectives in a book, this one included, because I've got rather particular tastes about what kind of character I want to follow around and rarely are there going to be three or four in one book who fit the criteria.

    On the other hand, my pickiness about main characters hinders me from liking many books at all, and I might have liked them a lot more if half the time we were following another, more interesting character. Even if I'd still bemoan the chapters spent with the intended protagonist. So I guess that's one way of looking at it. I'm sure people read Swordspoint and only care about the political intrigue, sighing whenever they reach another chapter that opens with the antics of Alec and Richard. Whereas this book would not pass a 3-star rating for me if those two weren't the focus of half the book.

    This one only had a handful, and I can keep track of who they all are at least. ASOIAF definitely has the problem of tossing me into someone's POV and I'm left wondering 'who the hell am I reading about right now?'
  8. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    This became a problem for me later in the series when the PoV chapters weren't named after the characters. Not that the PoV shifts threw me in Swordspoint , I just found myself saying, "Oh, Ferris again."

    I didn't understand the dynamic at first, but then once I found out they were sleeping together, it made a lot more sense. It seemed like a very "plaything" kind of relationship. Alec gets annoyed with someone, Richard kills them. It seems like all fun and games until Alec gets inconvenienced by the whole thing. I feel like Richard rubbing on the manacle marks on Alec's wrists and his anger over his drug use show that he does love him. And Alec is feeling the same when he begs Richard to leave. When Richard stands his ground and refuses, the "plaything" no longer is fun and has become dangerous. That's why I find the relationship interesting. I feel like Alec only cares for Richard as long as he's useful. When he becomes a liability, the relationship ends. I do feel like there is a lot of emotion there in those scenes, but both are trying to cover it up so it's not as evident that they really do care for one another, no matter how trivially.

    If I had to review this book, I'd probably give it 3.5 to 4 stars. I liked it, but for some reason I felt like it should have ended earlier. I don't know if that makes sense, but that was my feeling. Since I tend to like either funny/silly stories or darker stories (one extreme or the other), I found this one didn't fit into my preferred style of reading. And that's why I liked it for the most part. The style carried me through the parts I wasn't as connected to, and I did find the Alec/Richard relationship interesting because it wasn't so conventional with them declaring their love for each other and all that.
  9. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    OK, just finished this. Makes me 2 for 3 in the Reading Group so far. I felt like the story ended kind of flat for me, but overall I really enjoyed the story. Parts of it lulled for me, but for the most part it held my attention and was a relatively easy ready. I felt like Alec and Richard were definitely the focal points and that got hammered home when I read the Afterword and noticed that Kushner did several more stories following these characters. I liked them the most. I was a bit disappointed never to hear again from Michael toward the end and I felt like Alec being a lord seemed kind of out of left field, but made sense.

    In any case, I'd probably read more from Kushner if someone highly recommended another book, but I have so many other books to get through, it would probably be a long time before I would get to it.

    I give this one a thumbs up with the caveat that it's not a non-stop rollercoaster ride and some of it feels too easy.
  10. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

    I've finished the book and my verdict is "I guess it's alright". Truth be told I found it rather dull for a large part, especially toward the end. One thing really bothered be. What the hell was the point of Michael's story arc? It didn't go anywhere or have any impact on the main story. I just really don't get it.
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Phil, Privilege of the Sword is a more straightforward story, and lots of fun. You'd probably like that. The Fall of the Kings is probably the most complex, in terms of plot, and brings magic back into the world, which is pretty cool.
  12. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I felt the same about that. I assumed it would end with him challenging St Vier, but maybe that was too obvious? Anyway, yeah, I felt that was one of the more disappointing parts for me also because I started to like him.

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