Thursday, December 8, 2011

Audiobook review: Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner

" an eerily nasty way."  - Richard St Vier, Swordspoint

Swordspoint (1987) by Ellen Kushner
Series: Book one of the Riverside series
Genre: fiction
Length: 10h 54m
Audio publisher: Neil Gaiman Presents, 2011
Read by: Ellen Kushner, Dion Graham, Katherine Kellgren, Robert Fass, Nick Sullivan, Simon Jones, and full cast

Story: Richard St. Vier is the greatest swordsman in Riverside. He is constantly in demand for nobles' parties and to settle points of honor, but he doesn't do weddings. St. Vier puts his life on the line each job he takes, but life is cheap. Everyone dies. Honor and reputation are what's precious. Now Richard is a pawn in the power games played by the city's bored nobility. Can he keep his honor, reputation, and life intact?

Thoughts: Swordspoint is described as "if Jane Austen wrote fantasy," but it's closer to Les Liaisons Dangereuses than Sense and Sensibility. The story follows several points of view from the slums of Riverside to the nobles' Hill as each person sets up their games of power using other people's lives. The book is subtitled "a melodrama of manners," and there is a lot of chocolate drinking. There are also Machiavellian politics, swordplay, theater, and revenge. The characters are compelling but hard to fathom as each has their own hidden motivations. Everyone uses everyone else, and only the quick survive. While Swordspoint's action takes place in a country that uses swords, there is no magic or fantastical elements in the book. It's fantasy because it takes place in a country with different laws and customs. And swords.

Production: I've had bad experiences with author-narrated audiobooks and with full-cast audiobooks, so when I found out Swordspoint was an author-narrated, full-cast audiobook, I was very apprehensive. Happily, my fears were unfounded. Ellen Kushner reads clearly and with grace, and it really sounds like she's having fun. She reads most of the book. The full cast is only brought in when there are larger group scenes. Occasional sound effects are added (doors opening, footfalls), and the full-cast sections has background sounds and music. I would think having a narrator read the voices of the main characters for most of the book and then switching to other people reading them for the group scenes would be confusing, but it works very well. Having the consistent narrator allowed me to sink into the story, and the infrequent group scenes were a fun diversion.

Final thoughts: If you've already read Swordspoint, the full-cast version is well done, and an excellent introduction to audiobooks. Swordspoint is also a good book if you enjoy stories of political intrigue or duels. No interest in fantasy needed.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5

Bonus fact: Ellen Kushner wrote five choose your own adventure books including #56 The Enchanted Kingdom. This makes me happy.

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