Friday, December 12, 2008

Gay fantasy: Swordspoint

Here's another very good read that came out in the mainstream press in the late 1980s. It was published by Arbor House in 1987. Ellen Kushner was out on a limb ... her bio says she was very well connected in the industry she could probably afford the risk. Also, Ann Rice had "broken trail" with the vampire stories and Cry to Heaven, but EK was going in different directions. Gay fantasy fiction.

There's a real shortage. Have you ever tried to track down something like Lord of the Rings, but where the book's love interest is between the two heroes? It's hard to find a book like this. Like a gay version of Conan the Barbarian, or Ladyhawke, or similar. You'll have a long search!

(I can only think of a few gay fantasy novels. It's as if professional gay writers have no affinity with fantasy worlds. (Though, if you get on the internet and look around, you'll find loads of amateur fiction written by fans of the LOTR movies, where the characters are "paired." It's often poorly written, and sometimes looks like it hasn't been edited ... but at least it's something!)

So, Swordspoint was unique in two ways when it came out. It has overt gay relationships -- gasp! In a book released my a mainstream publisher! -- and its story is set in a fantasy realm.

(Other gay fantasy novels I'm thinking of are The Swordsman, by Mel Keegan; The Last Herald Mage series by Mercedes Lackey; the Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling ... and so on. You can get a lot of these at Amazon ... but you soon get into SF, weird, erotica, vampires, anything but "real" fantasy.)

So it was a nice surprise when Swordspoint came out. It's a "literary" kind of fantasy, so if you were hoping for a "down and dirty, raunchy, sword-swinging, dragon-slaying gay romp", this isn't the book you want. Swordspoint is like Sixteenth Century Europe (court of the Medici kind of thing), with Oscar Wilde style dialog, and a sophisticated fantasy backdrop, and characters whose sexual preference leans toward the m/m.

It's not explicit, but it is delightful. The plot is all about intrigue, courtly characters, menace and danger. The central character is the gorgeous Richard St. Vier, who's a duellist, and there's enough action, drama and derring do to satisfy someone whose guilty pleasure is, uh, Errol Flynn. (In fact, Gene Wolf said in his review of the book that this is "the book we might have had if Noel Coward had written a vehicle for Errol Flynn." Cool.)

If the book has a downside, it's that it's sometimes inclined to get a bit too clever with the repartee and witty, Coward/Wilde style dialog ... and in today's world that tends to make the book sound "stilted" -- people just don't talk like that. (You wonder if they ever did.) This can make the book hard to get through in patches, and can also make it hard to identify with the characters, who sometimes seem a bit "artificial."

If you can get past this (the problem being, if you skip over whole pages you'll miss the details that drive the plot), the book has some great characters -- like Richard's boyfriend, Alec, and Lord Horn, who loves to party. The story will hold you, from the real, honest, "once upon a time" beginning to the "feet on the fender" comfortable ending.

The book is literary; and if you were hoping for some steamy scenes -- sorry to disappoint. However, Swordspoint is delightful as well as subtle, and if you like Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward, the dialog does sparkle.

Recommended. AG's taing: 4 out of 5 stars.


pizzabite July 29, 2013 at 4:41 PM  

cannot agree more~!! it's a lovely book that needs more attention!
have u reviewed The song of achilles yet? it's like my all time fav :D
the ending was ,well,to me, a bit quick~but still :D

pizzabite July 29, 2013 at 4:42 PM  
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