Ellen Kushner, 1987

Premise: Richard St. Vier is a sword for hire, a skilled duelist who calls out nobles on request when the situation and the price are right. But the politics of the city is larger than any one man.

I don't think I'd ever heard of this book until I saw some excitement about a new book that returns to this world. I can see why it is beloved by some and enjoyed by others. Unfortunately, it just didn't grab me.

Today, the city of this type is a fantasy archetype - the scheming nobles on the hill contrasted with the fighters and thieves in the slums. I don't know how prevalent it was when this book was first written.

The relatively unique thing about this book is that many or most of the male characters are bisexual. It's not commented on until near the very end, and it seems normal to most characters that St. Vier has taken up with Alec, a troubled scholar with a secret past. Having a gay couple at the center of the intrigue is neat, but it did feel a bit strange that after almost the entire book, a few off-hand comments suddenly implied that society frowned on homosexual behavior and no characters expected such liaisons to last. It was just an odd surprise that didn't seem to match the rest of the book. Also, there were no confirmed lesbian relationships that I noticed.

The politics of the book were extremely complex, which was nice. The nuances were well handled, and I liked all the different characters' motivations.

However, for me, it was just a bit dry. Characters came in and out of the narrative quickly, and the characters you spend the most time with were very secretive or very stoic, and the book gave you little of what they were thinking or feeling.

I think that it's skillfully written, and I enjoyed the related short stories that followed in the edition I had. I just didn't love it.

3 Stars - A Good Book


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