Book Review

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner

Genre | Fiction
Page #s | 329
Publishing Date | February 1987

The classic forerunner to The Fall of the Kings now with three bonus stories. 

Hailed by critics as “a bravura performance” (Locus) and “witty, sharp-eyed, [and] full of interesting people” (Newsday), this classic melodrama of manners, filled with remarkable plot twists and unexpected humor, takes fantasy to an unprecedented level of elegant writing and scintillating wit. Award-winning author Ellen Kushner has created a world of unforgettable characters whose political ambitions, passionate love affairs, and age-old rivalries collide with deadly results.


On the treacherous streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. Within this elite, dangerous world, Richard St. Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless–until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead of awe, and the city discovers that the line between hero and villain can be altered in the blink of an eye.


Swordspoint is a gorgeously written novel with incredible character work, but…I just couldn’t get invested in the story. It felt like nothing much was happening for the first half of the book, and the “polite society talks around itself in hidden messages” often went over my head. I loved Richard and Alec, and goodness knows that arrogant young men with swords and books are my weakness, but I ended the book without any compulsion to indulge in more.

That’s not to say there’s nothing good here. The world building is simple but deeply satisfying, with the lower class Riverside district nicely compared and contrasted with The Hill where nobility live. The role of swordsmen as a bridge between these worlds is excellently demonstrated in St Vier’s story, as he acts with all of the honor of a nobleman but is treated with the disdain of a Riversider. He also encapsulates the hypocrisy of the nobility, since they have no problem killing each other, but only if a long list of rules have been checked off first.

It’s worth mentioning that the women in this book are not treated well. Granted, it was written in 1987, but it’s still uncomfortable to read about women casually being called whores and being mistreated by the men who own them (either formally or informally). There is one woman with power who is quite interesting, but because she’s the only one and her power comes through subterfuge and sexual favors, she instead comes across rather stereotypical.

What Makes This Book Queer?

For a moment, I thought everyone in Swordspoint was bisexual, and this is almost the case. That is awesome, but we do only get to spend time with male/male partners. I love Richard and Alec, but combined with the uncomfortable female characters, the queerness is tainted by a whiff of misogyny.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Check out our Queer Lil Library for more book recommendations and reviews!

2 comments on “Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner

  1. Pingback: I Read 66 Queer Books in 2021! – Roar Cat Reads

  2. Pingback: Roar Cat Reads Book Suggestions for Our 2022 LGBTQ+ Summer Book Bingo – Roar Cat Reads

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