Category Archives: books i love

Books I love: Swordspoint

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, 1987.

The book opens thus:

Snow was falling on Riverside, great white feather-puffs that veiled the cracks in the façades of its ruined houses; slowly softening the contours of jagged roof and fallen beam. […]
Let the fairy tale begin on a winter’s morning, then, one drop of blood new-fallen on the ivory snow: a drop as bright as a clear-cut ruby, red as the single spot of claret on the lace cuff.

Richard St. Vier is a swordsman who lives in the mean streets of Riverside. Nobles from up on the Hill hire him to duel for their honor, to first blood or to the death. His signature is a killing blow straight to the heart, very difficult, but he’s the best.

Alec Campion is a student with a secret past, and he has a bad habit of trying to get himself killed in bar fights. Fortunately (or not) for him, St. Vier took a liking to him and will defend him from the attackers. Sometimes Alec starts fights on purpose, just so he can watch Richard work.

The plot is twisty and full of intrigue, intricate and intimate. Richard and Alec’s love story is at the heart of the novel, but there is another larger plot going on around them. There’s a power play going on among the nobles, into which Richard and Alec are drawn, in no small part because of Alec’s secret past*.

Alec isn’t the most likable character; he’s an ass, a drug addict, and a bit of a liar. Richard is a cold-blooded killer, with a soft spot for Alec.

Kushner has said that everyone in her books is bisexual; Richard had a wife, and Alec had several female lovers. (Yet people still classify them as “gay lovers;” the book is on lists of books with gay main characters. Bisexual erasure: it’s a real thing.) This is wonderful and still rare in publishing.

The edition I own, Bantam Spectra 2003, includes three short stories: “The Swordsman Whose Name was Not Death,” how Richard met Alec, “The Death of the Duke,” as it says on the tin, and “Red-Cloak,” a tale of a duel between Richard and a man who may not have been as he seemed, as well as an afterword by Kushner.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys political intrigue, romance between two extremely flawed individuals, and beautiful, evocative writing. I hope you love it as much as I do.

*SPOILER: he’s the heir to Duchess Tremontaine. Continue reading

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Book review: Worlds of Exile and Illusion

Worlds of Exile and Illusion by Ursula K. LeGuinThis is a collection of three short novels that are linked together.First, Rocannon’s World, which includes part the short story “Semley’s Necklace.” Rocannon is a representative of the Hainish League, an… Continue reading

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Book review: Whipping Girl

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, Julia Serano, 2007. After I ranted about “girly” not being an insult, my friend Enne said I ought to read this book, and they brought it over for … Continue reading

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Books I love: CJ Cherryh’s The Faded Sun

The Faded Sun was originally published in 1978-79, comprising three novels: Kesrith, Shon’jir, and Kutath. They were collected in an omnibus and reprinted in 2000, with a nice Michael Whelan cover. Unlike other books I love, I’ve only read this … Continue reading

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Breaking silence

So, since 6 Jan, I’ve been working 30 hours a week at a place 45 minutes each way. It’s cut into my writing time, and because I work 1-7, it’s cut into my evening time as well. (Get home 7:45, … Continue reading

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Happy Birthday, Ursula LeGuin!

Today is LeGuin’s 80th birthday, and also the 40th anniversary of the publication of Hugo-winner The Left Hand of Darkness. LeGuin is one of my favorite writers. She’s written fantasy, science fiction, and YA novels and short stories. You can … Continue reading

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The one thing you can’t trade for your heart’s desire is your heart: MEMORY by LM Bujold

I could read this book a hundred times and not get tired of it. While it’s the best of LMB’s Miles books, it’s the worst place to pick up the series: you need the emotional investment in the characters for … Continue reading

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Novellas I love: The Mountains of Mourning

Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my favorite currently-working writers. My buddy Phil introduced me to her books while we were stuck in an airport on weather delays. Now I have an entire shelf devoted to her books (though since … Continue reading

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