Let the fairy-tale begin on a winter's morning, then, with 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. And it therefore follows that evil lurks behind each broken window, scheming malice and enchantment; while behind the latched shutters the good are sleeping their just sleeps at this early hour in Riverside. Soon they will arise to go about their business; and one, maybe, will be as lovely as the day, armed, as are the good, for a predestined triumph.… [p. 1]Follycon: it's ... quite a long time since I last read this novel (over ten years, in fact), and I still find new facets to it.
The unnamed city which contains Riverside, the University and the Hill has a decidedly eighteenth-century ambience, a sense of decadence and danger. The nobles drink chocolate and wear lace; the underclass of Riverside drink beer and play cards; the theatre is a spectacle for all. Swordsmen are pawns in political and personal games: they're also highly-paid professionals, and Richard St Vier is the best of the current generation. His lover Alec, a former University student, revels in Richard's protection, and in the lethality at his disposal. But Alec's past, and his familiarity with the nobles on the Hill, intrudes into Richard's professional and personal life.
Especially interesting to see Diane, Duchess Tremontaine, through the kaleidoscope lens of Tremontaine, the SerialBox series (now up to season 3) set a generation before Swordspoint. Diane's past adds a fascinating dimension to her actions and motivations in this novel. I liked her rather more for it.
Swordspoint is that delightful thing, a fantasy novel without magic. What, then, makes it fantastical? I still don't have an answer to that one. Unless it's the sex'n'gender elements: most characters are bisexual, and this time round I observed that the only avowedly heterosexual (monosexual?) character is a villain.
Note regarding this e-book version: not only does it omit the three short stories I was so pleased to find in my previous, vanished paperback edition, but it shows signs of imperfect OCR ('Marie! Mane!' ... Helms-leigh usually, though not always, hyphenated).
Still a delight to read: and after this I found myself eager to reread the other two novels in the main sequence, The Privilege of the Sword and The Fall of the Kings. I don't think I'd ever read them in sequence before: it was a revelation. Watch this space!