Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I came into Swordspoint with high expectations, which may account partly for why it disappointed me - there's much intriguing and interesting about this book, but I also found it distant, puzzling and often vague.
The atmospheres of the twin societies - Riverside and the Hill - and their very different natures (or are they so different?) are flavorful and sharply drawn. There's a subtle wit underlying the story in several places - one of my favorite scenes was a description of a tragic play, all romanticized and prettified as only theatre can be.
Unfortunately, for the first quarter of the book or so, I was at a loss to find much forward movement in plot. There was a lot of setup, and enough questions to keep one reading, but to me, it didn't feel like much was happening. And there were threads started - like the apparently prominent introduction of Lady Halliday - that never really played through.
(For the matter of that, I thought the entire thread with Michael was underplayed. I found his evolution one of the best parts of the book, and was very disappointed not to see more of him near the end.)
I also felt as if I never got a good grasp on the characters, particularly the relationship between Richard and Alec. Motivation for other elements was described, but often seemed cold and short on emotion.
Finally, I never quite understood the political situation - the rankings and distinctions between Dragon Chancellor, Crescent Chancellor, and I know there was at least one more. I think I would have better understood the political interplay if the system had been more fully illustrated.
This book is constructed so much in the vein of things I like - politics, innuendo, double-meanings, plotting, four and five way struggles where everyone has their own agenda - that I'm still sad I didn't find it more satisfying.
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