What’s New for the 20th of January: Riverside, Spain, and other interesting things

Let the fairy tale begin on a winter’s morning, then, with one drop of blood newly-fallen on the ivory snow: a drop as bright as a clear-cut ruby, red as a single spot of claret on the lace cuff. ― Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint

It’s been quiet in the Library so I decided to read again one of my favourite novels, War for the Oaks, since my Several Annies are with Gus, our Estate Gardener sssisting him in disassembling the Winter decorations as we usually take the wreaths and such down just after we celebrate Little Christmas here as Ingrid, our Estate Steward and wife of Reynard, our Green Man Pub Manager, is Ukrainian. So she likes that it to be celebrated. You did hear the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is now superate from the Russian Orthodox Church? Interesting times are upon us.

Now where was I? Oh Emma.  Of all the novels she wrote I like Oaks best. It’s got characters in a real world setting, Minneapolis,  in a season, near midsummer, who are both strong and fragile at the same time. It’s long enough to keep me entertained for an entire evening and it’s unusually well-written for a first novel. All I want in a Winter read.

I’ve got a great Edition for you today featuring reviews of the Riverside fiction of Ellen Kushner which you haven’t read is definitely Winter treat waiting for you to be served up with cups of hot chocolate. Oh and Check out our Food and Drink section which is linked to her website where you’ll find recipies folks created of food they think would serve in the Riverside. It’s quite entertaining.


We promised you reviews and comments on Ellen Kushner’s Riverside novels, which, as it turns out, winds up being a lot of books. Where to start?

I suppose the best place is the beginning, with Swordspoint, of which Robert says “Call it “mannerpunk,” call it “fantasy,” call it what you will, it is still one of the best examples of speculative fiction I’ve ever read.’

Fast forward fifteen years or so, to The Privilege of the Sword, for further adventures of Alec, although the book is centered around his niece, Katherine Talbert, who, through no fault of her own, has become Alec’s ward. Robert says of this one ‘If Swordspoint is a perfect gem, The Privilege of the Sword is the gem in its full setting: elegant, wicked, funny, intelligent, and fluent.’

And a number of years farther along bring us to The Man With the Knives. Just to place it in the timeline, Robert notes: ‘The Man With the Knives takes us out of the City for a tale that takes place between The Privilege of the Sword and “The Death of the Duke.”’

And yet farther ahead, to a novel with a new cast of characters and a new set of complications, Kushner’s collaboration with Delia Sherman, The Fall of the Kings. Robert notes: ‘The blurbs for this book include references to Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Dunnet, Oscar Wilde – I would say, add in some of the bawdier comedies of the Elizabethans, perhaps a dose of Richard Sheridan’s brittle dialogue, and a good helping of the eroticism of Anne Bishop’s universe of the Blood (oh, and don’t forget Jane Austen’s merciless satire), and you are starting to get close – but only close.’

Just when you thought we were going to keep going ahead in time, we backtrack. Tremontaine is an anthology, of sorts, with a number of authors contributing to a collection that nonetheless maintains a coherent story line. Robert again: ‘One thing that deserves mention, given the number of people working on this story, is the stylistic consistency: if there are differences in style or diction, they are so subtle as to escape notice.’

It starts to look as though Robert was the only one to comment on Kushner’s work, but that’s not really the case. To start at the beginning once more, Vonnie gives us her thoughts on the audiobook version of Swordspoint: ‘A fantasy novel without overt fantasy elements, Swordspoint was written and now is narrated by Ellen Kushner. . . . It is a witty book, and an engaging audiobook, with a plot that plays out across the economic spectrum of a city in duels and parlor conversations, clandestine rendezvous’ of lovers or plotters, as well as lords and young ruffians jockey and maneuver for power.’

And Cat rounds off our reviews with The Swords of Riverside audiobook: ‘I discovered on Audible that [Swordspoint] was the start of forty-five hours of listening pleasure called The Swords of Riverside, which also contains, if anything so mundane can contain such superb novels, The Privilege of the Sword and The Fall of the Kings.’


Not at all well received among Neo-Pagans is a film reviewed by Michelle: ‘There’s no denying the negative stereotyping in Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches, based on Roald Dahl’s novel of the same name. It’s a guilty pleasure, watching sophisticated women degraded by a little boy whom they’ve turned into a mouse. Adults will have an easier time than the intended young audience in recognizing the satiric elements of the film, but for some viewers that may not make it more tolerable; works of art like this one contribute to the demonization of Pagans and practitioners of folk medicine historically and in our own era.’


In keeping with our book reviews this edition, Ellen Kushner has published a group of recipes that are more or less inspired by the Riverside novels.  She notes:  “On this page, you’ll find everything from recipes and menus created by fans of the series to delight the Mad Duke Tremontaine and his Riverside friends, to ones created by friends of the author to keep her at her desk.”  You can find them all here.


Gary listened to an album by the French-Israeli pianist Yonathan Avishai and his trio: ‘For such an economical package — at eight tracks and just 55 minutes, it’s practically an EP by today’s jazz CD standards — Yonathan Avishai’s Joys and Solitudes is brimming with musical riches.’

Gary also reviews Olympic Girls by New Zealand’s Tiny Ruins. Hollie Fullbrook, who fronts Tiny Ruins,’has an arresting, husky alto that makes her singing stand out immediately,’ he says.

Hedningarna’s Karelia Visa gets this comment from Kim: ‘It’s an odd thing — one of the words which keeps coming to mind when I listen to this CD is “evocative.” But that raises the question, what exactly does it evoke? And I can’t really give you an answer, as I am not of Nordic origin and have never visited the area. So, it is indeed an interesting phenomenon to listen to a CD of a Swedish band travelling to the now-Russian province of Karelia, collecting the songs from that region to include on this recording, and to find it both exotic and evocative at the same time. Ah, the mysteries of music…’

Stephen looks approvingly at Baba Yaga — ‘Annbjorg Lien is a Norwegian composer, arranger, instrumentalist, and singer, who occupies an artistic space where clumsy attempts at easy definition are irrelevant. With this CD she’s created a music in which traditional fiddle tunes are pop songs, string quartets are folk dances, electronic rhythms are an element of symphonic composition, and the sound of human breathing is both rhythm and melody.’


Our What Not this Edition is a video teaser for Snowflake Trio‘s new album. They will play a release concert for their first CD Sun Dogs January 24 at Drygate Brewery in Glasgow during Celtic Connections. The trio – flautist and singer Nuala Kennedy, genre-defying accordionist Froda Haltli and hardanger virtuoso Vegar Vårdal – combines the roots music of Ireland and Norway in unique and exciting ways. Gary’s been waiting eagerly for this release since he caught them on stage at Celtic Colours in Cape Breton Island in 2013.


For our Coda, Robert has one of his favorite, over-the-top pieces from the Romantic repertoire, and one that’s very, very Spanish: the Adagio from Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, with none other than the legendary John Wiliams on guitar:

About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I’m the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library.

I’m a violinist too, so you’ll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.

This entry was posted in Commentary. Bookmark the permalink.