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Installment two of my book review meme-things!

Just Finished?
Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. (Fantasy)

Reason for Reading? As I said before, it's all Sarah Monette's fault. There's a bit more to it than what I suggested last time, though. Yes, Alec as a 'relation' to Felix Harrowgate was a draw, as was the fact that this was a story that did not rely on hetero-normativity. Also, however, was the fact that this was a book of some importance to at least one of my favourite authors (Monette) and that it was read and enjoyed by several other authors that I like. In the course of reading it and exploring how it was related to Kushner's other books, I came to realize that I'd been hearing about the series (which isn't really a series, I gather?) to some degree for at least ten years from a number of different fantasy fans: I just didn't realize it until I was part way through. So it's well-read and well-liked - I'm not sure if it can be considered a fantasy classic, but I would say that it's well on its way to being there.
Oh hell, I'm getting side-tracked, aren't I?
I was talking about why I was reading this. Okay then, here's another thing: I love fantasy as a genre, and for all that I read Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was quite young (elementary school, I think) and watched truly obscene amounts of 80s fantasy films (Yeaaaaaah that explains a few things, doesn't it?) I didn't really get in to READING fantasy in a big way until about about... 2000? A few things here and there before that, but not a terrible lot, however much I may have postured to the contrary.
And of course, when I finally did get into the genre, I typically read stories that were fairly recent. (Some of the works of Mercedes Lackey are the only exceptions I can think of off the top of my head.)

So basically, from the 1950s to the start of this millennium is a great big blank in terms of what I know about the fantasy genre. And if there's one thing I've learned at university (especially in this past year at Trent) it's how important and moreover how interesting it is to track the development of, well, stories. The Lord of the Rings, for example, is better if you've read viking sagas. I've become really quite cognizant of how much I'm missing by not reading good books from years past. I've got a lot of the really (REALLY) old stuff under my belt, but the stuff from my parents' day? Or my grandparents'? Or theirs?
Published in 1987, Swordspoint is only two years younger than I am, so there's no way that I was reading this when it was new.

Was it Good? Yes, though I'll admit that I found it to be a little slow to get into.

Why? Why. It's hard to describe, this one. Why do I like it? Plot, characters, pleasant writing style are all there, certainly. But I'm not absolutely enamoured with the characters, and the plot isn't so wildly different from other works of fantasy that I've read or seen that it is singularly captivating. Likewise, the world that it takes place in is rich and real, but I can't feel it in the way that I can some of my other favourite imaginary places.
And yet, this is a good book. A REALLY good book. As I said, if it's not a fantasy classic yet, it's probably going to become one. Certainly it will hold that role in my heart and mind.
And that, I know, is related to why I like it. It's distinctive. A lot (a LOT) of fantasy novels are crap that blend into each other. This one isn't. This one is... special. And yet I can't quite put my finger on why, except that it is.

What's it about? It is about a swordfighter, in a society which practices dueling. It's ultimately about the lifestyle, and how the lifestyle can and does lead to trouble. In some ways, it is very similar to courtly romances, but it's not too similar, or else I wouldn't like it. But it's an almost-courtly romance in a world where courtly could romances exist, and where they are almost certainly read by the characters of the story.
That sounds stupid.
I'm sure someone out there has said it better than me - I think I'm far too literal.

Who's your favourite character? I really cannot decide between Richard and Alec.

Favourite secondary character The Duchess.

Would you recommend this book to others? Yes. I recommend it to readers of fantasy in the same way that I recommend The Odyssey to anyone who reads books - enthusiastically.

Anything Else? There are three short stories set in the world of Swordspoint at the end of my copy of the book. My favourite of these is easily The Death of the Duke though I found The Swordsman whose Name was not Death to be especially charming. I also thought it sounded like a set-up for a story I would love to read (And since I believe that it IS a set-up for The Privilege of the Sword), I foresee more of Kushner's books in my library.
On that note, I can't decide which book in this series I should be reading next - Privilege which was written later but takes place sooner, or The Fall of Kings which was written earlier, but takes place later! Any advice?
Also, it took me a little while to get used to the writing style at first - ultimately, though, that same style served to enhance the world of the book, so I didn't mind. However, if you pick this up and you are having trouble getting into it, give yourself time to get into it.

Since the lack of hetero-normativity was part of the reason that I picked this book up, I should probably say something on it, huh? I liked how 'bisexual as the norm' was portrayed - it was so well integrated into the book, and so similar to my own concept of sexuality that I almost forgot to mention it.

Also, I made an icon out of my favorite line in the whole book! *Points up* It's Alec saying that, of course. Feel free to use it, if you'd like.

Up Next?
Storm Front (Book one of the Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, I haven't decided yet.

Why? Oliver Twist partly for that literary roots thing I was talking about, and partly because I feel bad loving the musical but never having read the book. Storm Front because dad's friend gave us his used copies of the series, and they're ones that I've considered buying on and off for a while now. Also, I think it'd be a quick read?

Hopes? For Storm Front - I suspect that I'll like it, enjoy reading it, but that it's ultimately fluff that I will just walk away from when I'm done.
For Oliver Twist - Lower, sadly, than I would like. Apparently the scenes with Fagin are terribly anti-Semitic, which will probably make me sad and confused. (Especially since Fagin is my favourite character in the musical version.)

Want to know who's read this book before you? Sure! Especially regarding Storm Front, as I know nothing about it, except what's written on the back cover.

Date: 2009-05-27 10:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Storm Front isn't bad--it's fun, it's supernatural, it's face-paced--but I found that the characters took forever for me to really really warm up to.

I, uh, have all the books in that series but for Turn Coat, and I still wasn't really 'hooked' until Blood Rites, which is book six. That's when I really started to care about the characters, YMMV obviously, but it is a fun series. I just don't find him particularly emotionally engaging, which, depending on your reading tastes may not matter as much.

(The TV series of it, on the other hand, is ow painful if you expect anything like the books. Owww. )

Date: 2009-05-28 10:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Storm Front isn't bad--it's fun, it's supernatural, it's face-paced--but I found that the characters took forever for me to really really warm up to.

I seem to find that's true of a lot of Urban fantasy (which that is, right?) and I'm not sure why. Seems like they'd be easier to relate to than characters so very displaced from our world.
We'll see how it goes, though. I do like it when I am emotionally invested in teh characters more than when I'm not, though.

(Oh man, do you remember the old Animporphs TV show? Ewwwwwwwwwww. I think that turned me off of TV shows based on books. ...Except for True Blood, apparently.)

Date: 2009-05-28 11:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
As a theory, totally unsubstantiated and all of that, but whatever, I think connecting with the characters is harder because the authors--entirely possibly not deliberately--assume the same thing: that we'll connect better with the characters simply by virtue of them living in a world closer to ours. So they don't put as much effort (again, this could be entirely unconscious on their parts--writing any sort of book is hard work!) in making us want to care about the characters and so it goes on like that. In them thinking 'oh, it's urban fantasy' they assume the same thing we do and it leads to less of a connection all around.

(...that show was hideous. And hilarious. And ought to never be spoken of again. And, alas, I tried reading the first Sookie book and never made it through. XD; Ow. )

Date: 2009-05-28 11:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That theory makes a lot of sense to me, actually. Which (if it's true) is kind of a shame, because the general idea of urban fantasy is really very interesting.

(Oh god, it made me want to cry. Cry with RAGE.
And honestly, I've not read the Sookie books. And though this is unusual for me, I'm not sure I'd want to. I kind of like it as a show, and I can't really imagine enjoying it as much as books. :/)

Date: 2009-05-28 11:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It is a really interesting genre! It's just depressing emotionally bereft and so I wander off into other books because of it.

( ^^;;;; It wasn't the plot that drove me away, it was the writing. Even in the narrative Sookie's got the Southern drawl sort of thing going on and it Drove Me Up The Wall. I wanted to take a red pen to her thoughts and get rid of it all. Owww. )

Date: 2009-05-28 11:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I knooooooow. I tend to read it when I feel intellectually worn out from other things, and that's.... about it.

(Oh man. I always find that 'writing in an accent' thing to be very... distracting. I've only ever forgiven it for one series of books. Nothing else seems to be worth it.)

Date: 2009-05-28 11:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Heee. Mercedes Lackey is fun if you want urban fantasy with a connection--her plots tend to be weaker, alas, but she's got emotional connections down with utter flair.

(If it was the speech pattern only, I could handle it? But it's from Sookie's perspective and all of the narration is in it too. Ack.)

Date: 2009-05-29 12:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I dunno, I tried to read M.L.'s urban fantasy in high school (at your suggestion, I think. It's the one with the fox, right?) and I just could not get into it. Though I don't doubt the emotional connections thing. XD Ah, remember the good old days of arguing what counted as "literature" in English class? *Nostalgic sigh*

(Ack is right. That sounds awful. Any desire I had to read those books has been thoroughly squelched.)

Date: 2009-05-29 12:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Maybe Kai's? That one tended to be more on Kai's list than mine, though I like it. I was actually thinking of her Bedlam's Bard series. It's in the same world, but focuses more on one character and how he grows through the series. It's less... clunky, in my opinion. XD Hahahaha, oh English class, how little actual work we did in you.

Date: 2009-05-29 01:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Possibly. Probably, actually. I know my introduction to Lackey was a direct result of you two. I probably thought it was you with the fox book because of... well, the fox.

And yet, how much we didn't fail.

Date: 2009-05-29 01:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*halos* I have no idea what you're talking about! Fox obsession? Me?

That's because we were made of awesome!

Date: 2009-05-29 01:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Now that you mention it, I have no idea where I could possibly have gotten that idea from!

>_> That must be it.

Date: 2009-05-29 01:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Must've been a delusion, tsk tsk.

It could've been! It wasn't like that class was hard.

Date: 2009-05-29 01:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That's what I get for experimenting with hallucinogens in high school, I guess.

I'll say. Any English class where you needn't even open any of the books is... bad.

Date: 2009-12-12 08:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
(Having wandered here from Aymaera's journal)

The Swordsman Whose Name was Not Death isn't directly connected to the Privilege of the Sword, but it shows up again as a book certain kinds of girls read.

The Privilege of the Sword is REALLY good, though, better than Swordspoint. The Fall of the Kings is about as good, but features actual magic, which gives it a slightly different feel, and a twist in the tragic ending I kind of appreciated, but had to read a second time to be sure I got. (You did notice Swordspoint is a fantasy novel with no magic, right?)

Date: 2009-12-12 08:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Although to look slightly less creepy-stalkerish, we have met, at archery and Comic-con mainly. it was the name Maureen that twigged it.

Date: 2009-12-12 11:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The Privilege of the Sword is REALLY good, though, better than Swordspoint.

I'm not surprised to hear that - an awful lot of people have suggested Privilege to me over the years, more than almost any other book.

As to the "Fantasy without magic" thing,I did notice, but there are a couple of non-magical fantasies that I've read in my day, so it didn't really click as something special. :D

Although to look slightly less creepy-stalkerish, we have met, at archery and Comic-con mainly.
Phfft, I wouldn't be disturbed even if it was just being 'stalkerish' - I've met some great friends that way.
So... does that mean you're... Gwen...? *Still so bad with names*

Date: 2009-12-13 06:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, I'm Gwen. In the SCA and some fandom. (And that you needed to namecheck is weirdly funny to me, as my LJ is under my real first and middle names.)

I believe Swordspoint was considered one of the first fantasies that was actually a full imaginary world with no suggestion of magic. It's happened since, I grant you, but what got my attention was that I never noticed. Someone told me that years after I'd first read it, and I pretty much said, "It didn't? Wait. It really didn't."


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