Riverside is a slum, a rundown neighborhood of beggars and thieves, where danger looms when night falls and only the foolhardy dare to venture. The Hill is home to the rich and powerful, its opulent residences host to the excesses of privilege. Two seemingly antithetical districts of an unnamed city, their borders as conspicuous and clear cut as their respective inhabitants – except on occasions when a score demands settling. That’s when the lines become blurred by subterfuge, secrecy, and the fighting skills of hired assassins.
Richard St. Vier is a sword for hire, a denizen of Riverside whose bloody business often takes him to the elegant estates of his elite benefactors and victims. Despite his notoriety as the city’s deadliest assassin, however, St. Vier adheres to a strict ethical code in his death-dealing: no women, no children and, most important of all, he doesn’t do weddings! His companion, Alec Tremontaine, is a scholar, a brooding intellectual with an affinity for danger. And when Alec is kidnapped, St. Vier suddenly finds himself the reluctant pawn in a revenge-driven plot hatched by the scheming Lord Horn.
Oh, and St. Vier and Alec are gay. I include the fact as almost an aside because, once their intimacy is established in the book’s opening pages, it is casually accepted and becomes just another interesting piece of their multifaceted backstory. Yes, it’s important to the plot given that St. Vier is forced to act in order to save his lover, but it never becomes an issue for either the author or the book’s varied characters, instead serving as a solid emotional core to a narrative and setting at times stark and coolly precise.
Swordspoint is not so much fantasy as it is alternate history. No dwarves or elves or magic elixirs. Instead, it’s anti-heroes, courtly intrigue, and plenty of swordplay. Kushner does a masterful job of establishing a society in which the wealthy advance hidden agendas and answer perceived sleights through proxy duelists, combatants governed by a strict code of conduct. The intricacies of battle decorum are as fascinating as the political machinations that drive them, and Kushner excels at weaving a complex but not overly complicated web of deceit, double-crosses, and hidden agendas. As someone who owns a well-worn copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince, I loved these back room maneuverings – secret games made all that more interesting by its colorful assembly of players, from the brilliant Duchess Tremontaine to the nefarious Lord Ferris, characters who straddle that fine line between black and white.
Kushner’s characters are interesting because they’re flawed, and in some cases likable because – as strange as it sounds – they’re unlikable. Lord Ferris, our villain, orchestrates a brilliantly conceived power grab that ultimately comes to naught and yet, for all his faults, I respected the character and grew to admire him. Alec, on the other hand, was a character I initially sympathized with but eventually grew to dislike for his delight in instigating deadly confrontations only to have his partner fight his battles for him. St. Vier, our protagonist, is the most intriguing of the lot: an assassin with a sense of honor who would seemingly risk all for her love, yet whose past hints at the death of a former lover by his own hand. The fact that different readers have come away with very different interpretations of these characters is a testament to Kushner’s ability to craft a tale both deeply textured and vividly imagined.
If there is one fault I could find with Swordspoint, it would be its ending, a conclusion that felt a little too pat when compared to the delightfully sophisticated set-ups and pay-offs that precede it.
Overall, however, a unique and engaging novel with a witty narrative style as sparing and precise as St. Vier’s dueling style.
So, those are my preliminary thoughts. What did everyone else think? Start posting your comments – and questions for author Ellen Kushner!
We screened back to back director’s cuts today: episode 207 (The Greater Good) and episode 208 (Malice). Great stuff. This first half will see a narrative progression very similar to what we saw in the back half of season one, with various story elements building to occasionally explosive conclusions. Plenty of secrets, surprises, and shocking revelations.
Hey, looks like Remi put that flying time to good use, finishing up his responses to your fan questions while he enroute from L.A. Check out tomorrow’s entry for an all Remi Aubuchon entry. And, speaking of Remi, the second episode of Persons Unknown airs tonight on NBC at 10:00 p.m.!
Sean D. writes: “1. Is there a chance of getting a Q&A with Robert Carlyle?
2. Is there a chance of getting a Q&A with Lou Diamond Phillips?
3. Is there a chance of getting a Q&A with Robert Knepper?”
Answer: At least one of those is more than likely.
victor writes: “1. Will we ever see the 304′s asgard beam weapons in sgu?
2. How was it that the daedalus in no mans land was able to beam shepperd his team and micheal off the wraith transport and on the daedalus while taking fire with the shields up,and in search and rescue they had to lower the shields to beam them aboard?”
Answers: 1. Unlikely.
2. Sorry, would have to go back and take a look at the episode.
Rex Carter writes: “Just curious about that tainted zpm from Camulous wonder if the sgc got it working safely and or if it can be used for anything.”
Answer: Alas, that particular zpm is no more – along with the planet on which it was tested.
imadaman writes: “Riley may have been shot, but there’s the (lovely :3) chance that he’s still alive, right?”
Answer: Sure, there’s a chance – but tune in to fine out for certain.
Jeff writes: “I think what Mark meant in his question about finding a seeder ship, then using it to build a supergate, was doing what the Ori did. Building a supergate to travel from one galaxy to another.”
Answer: How would you build a supergate out of seed ship?
Lewis writes: “Any possibility of you & Paul writing a story arc for one of the Stargate comics?”
Lewis also writes: “If MGM doesn’t let Extinction come to fruition after a few years time would it be possible to do a comic book adaptation of it? Or even published as one of the Fandemonium novels?”
Answer: That’s up to MGM. Alas, I’m out of that particular decision-making process.
Kevin writes: “(1) I thought it was established that Naquadria was some kind of isotope of Naquadah in the sense it didn’t occur naturally. (ie. the bomb on Kelowna created more Naquadria). Are these ‘Icarus’ planets somehow naturally occuring ‘now’? Or were they the product of Anubis getting the info from Quinn and then testing it out? And only ‘now’ are people discovering his old testing grounds? (always wondered about that).”
Answer: Yes, we’ve established that Naquadria is not naturally occurring. The assumption is that these are old testing grounds abandoned since the fall of the goa’uld.
Kevin also writes: “(2) When Kiva said ‘next time we bring our own food/water’, was that a retrospect statement? or an allusion to them having a third icarus planet?”
Answer: The former.
Kevin also writes: “(3) Where did Kiva lose the 100 people she mentioned? It kinda looked like she was one of the last to leave the base..as any good commander should be. It didn’t really look like their was any spirited defense… a la Icarus Base.”
Answer: We can assume the base was much larger and that others were trapped in remote sections of the facility when it came under attack.
paloosa writes: “I asked why, and the said that it was the publisher’s decision. They were surprised because sales had been good. Have you heard anything about this?”
Answer: News to me.
eric writes: “Anyhoo, my question is about when Eli, Chloe and Scott returned to Destiny: did you ever answer on-screen how they got back? i.e. why Destiny’s address popped up on the screen again? If not are there plans to address that in season two?”
Answer: No plans to address this. When Destiny dropped out of FTL as a result of the sabotage, it was still within range of the planet and popped up on the remote. Seeing this, Eli dialed and secured a connection.
Michael writes: “So what do they do with the dead bodies of the KIA’s before this episode?”
Answer: Space ’em.
Michael Jones writes: ”
1.) Is the SGC still in operation on Earth, or has the Stargate been moved to Homeworld Command in the Pentagon?
2.) I saw James being captured during the changeover, but she didn’t seem to be in the room with Young and the other military personell… was she placed with the civilians or did she somehow get away…
3.) Did you record any commentaries for the 1.5 DVD/Blu Ray set?
4.) When ratings are counted, is it only the first showing that counts, or do both showings get accounted for?”
Answers: 1) All indications suggest it has been moved.
2) James wasn’t captured.
3) I didn’t.
4) It’s the first airing that garners all the attention.
Arctic Goddess writes: “Why was there a fire truck at Bridge Studios today? I heard it was a big enough deal to stop production.”
Answer: All good. Everything’s under control. Move along. Nothing to see here.
Duggy writes: “Is there going to be an Atlantis movie? None of this finances bull we’ve been hearing, just a straight up yes or no.”
Answer: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was inconveniencing you by not getting you this information sooner. I’ll have someone at the studio give you a call and fill you in personally. Just make sure they don’t give you any of this “finances bull” about needing money to make the movie and crap like that because the truth is we do it all for the love of the art…and discerning fans such as yourself.
Randomness writes: “but question on my mind is, where did 300,000 people go when it came to Episode 19? Did they fall asleep before it aired? DVR figures for that episode would be interesting.”
Answer: True. As for the reason for the dip – no idea, but the fact that we didn’t air the previous week could have had something to do with it. The casual viewer may have simply assumed our season was done.