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 snowed three feet in the past week here which means that no one, and I mean no one is coming or going from from this Estate. Fortunately we’ve but a handful of guests and all assure us that they have nowhere that they need be. It allows for just enough visitors to make it just a bit more lively here without being annoying.
We’ll likely be this way for at least a fortnight, so we do a few impromptu special things like a pouring of a reserve cider from my private Pub stock, and assisting the Kitchen staff in baking sweet treats. Don’t laugh — it’s a great honour here to be allowed to be part of the Kitchen community! Rugelach made perfect is a hard thing to do right…
We’ve got Good Stuff for you including a look by Robert at all of Ellen Kushner’s Riverside works, two covers of Jesse Colin Young‘s ‘Darkness, Darkness’, some recipes to tempt you and…
Ellen Kushner came up with one of the most captivating fantasy series in the history of the genre — at least, that’s Robert’s humble opinion. As he says in his opening remarks on Swordspoint: ‘Every once in a while, being a reviewer offers a special perk, whether it’s a new book by a favorite author, a new find who stands head and shoulders above the crowd, or the chance to take another look at an old favorite. So, when the Chief asked for a fresh look at Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, I was more than happy to agree. 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.’
Vonnie was equally enchanted by the audiobook: ‘A fantasy novel without overt fantasy elements, Swordspoint was written and now is narrated by Ellen Kushner, with some scenes dramatized by Dion Graham, Katherine Kellgren, Robert Fass, Nick Sullivan, and Simon Jones. It is a witty book, and an engaging audiobook. . . .’
The next episode in the story of Riverside is, indeed, history, or at least, the discovery of the history, as told by Kushner and Delia Sherman: ‘The Fall of the Kings is set sixty years after the events in the first novel, and with Delia Sherman as collaborator Kushner has broadened and enriched the context and created a story that still rings with the bustle of a vibrant city and adds an element of darker, more mysterious past to a time bathed in reason.’
Robert was equally impressed with a sequel: ‘If Swordspoint is a perfect gem, The Privilege of the Sword is the gem in its full setting: elegant, wicked, funny, intelligent, and fluent. There is, as is so often the case with truly good books, much more to this one than I can possibly discuss here.’
Next up for Robert was a novella in the series: ‘Ellen Kushner, in the tradition of writers of fantastic literature everywhere, has built an amazingly detailed and appealing universe in her series of novels and stories about the nameless City that contains Riverside and the Hill and those who inhabit it. 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.”
The final offering in the series — so far — is a multi-author collection: ‘Tremontaine is the latest foray into the world of Swordspoint, but it is not, as I had at first supposed, a collection of stories. It is, rather, an ongoing narrative with chapters by a group of writers, most of whom are new to me. . . . 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.’
Cat ran across an omnibus in the form of an audiobook, including Swordspoint and more: ‘I discovered on Audible that it 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.’
There — that should keep you occupied on those long winter evenings.
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.
David looks at the The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, both directed by Richard Lester: ‘The two films stand on their own merits individually but also form a wonderful whole when viewed together. The characters develop from the first to the second film. The relationships grow convincingly, and the action never lets up. There is sex, romance, and true love. There is action, and wit, and slapstick comedy. The scripts are glorious models of the screenwriter’s art, and there is not a bad performance to be seen. The sets are rich and faithful to the time, and the score (by Lalo Schifrin) underpins it all.’
For our Graphic Literature offering this week, Robert has a look at a collection in Bill Willilngham’s Fables series: ‘Storybook Love is the third collected volume of Bill Willingham’s Fables, and given the somewhat mordant cast of the first two volumes, one might guess that the love of the title is not all it’s cracked up to be — it’s certainly not anything you’re going to find in a fairy tale.’
Brendan has a tasty recording from Finland for your consideration: ‘JPP — short for Järvelän Pikkupelimannit (” Little Folk Musicians of Järvelä”) — originally formed in 1983 as a local fiddle orchestra in the small town of Järvelä, Finland. Formed around the nucleus of 3 fiddlers, including leader Arto Järvelä, a harmonium player, and a bass player, they spent most of the Eighties and early Nineties gathering a devoted following in Finland and across the world and the reputation of being particularly inventive interpreters of Finland’s rich folk heritage. With the publication of Kaustinen Rhapsody, JPP proved itself to be excellent performers of contemporary music as well.’
Jayme looks at what I’d say is essential listening for Celtic music fans: ‘There’s no gloss and polish here like you’d find on, say, an Altan disc, no studio jiggery and double-tracked harmonies that are so commonplace on a Clannad release. Not that those are necessarily bad things, mind you, but every one of the 11 tracks on The Best of Silly Wizard sound like they were recorded in one take in the studio, with the entire band playing at once, rather than the more common practice of laying down each instrument separately and mixing later. Now, I don’t know if that’s actually the way Silly Wizard recorded the music here, but the end result.’
Mike went off to see a legendary group: ‘The Dubliners are true legends of folk music, having now performed together as a group for 44 years. Many of the stories they tell of Dublin, are of a city that has all but disappeared in this day and age, and they are now as much a part of folklore as the songs and tunes that they perform.’ The band would disband six years after this concert and on their 50th year of being together. They’ve done some re-unions, but who doesn’t?
And Michael looks at an album from Maddy Prior: ‘An icon of English folk rock, Prior knows how to set her impressive vocal talents among supportive instrumental accompaniment. I won’t repeat the history of her career with Steeleye Span and Carnival, because Lahri Bond has already done that in his retrospective review which gives a great summary of personnel changes and albums, while Naomi de Bruyn covered her decision to leave the band after 28 years in her review of Prior’s compilation album Memento. Known and loved for her sweet, clear voice, Prior continues the tradition of fine vocal delivery with Ravenchild.’
One of my Several Annies found this week’s What Not in the Archives: Ellen Kushner’s Winter Queen Speech on The City in Winter: ‘Once, not so long ago – but longer ago now than it was then – it snowed in the city, and did not stop until everything changed. When we woke up, all the usual sounds were gone. No one was begging for loose change, or yelling for help from muggers, or telling her husband everything was all his fault. Some children were laughing and building snowmen in the courtyard of our building. There were no cars.’
The Infinite Jukebox, our Media Server, says it’s ‘Darkness, Darkness’, the Youngbloods song written by Jesse Colin Young way back in 1969, here performed by the Irish-American group Solas at State Theatre in Ithaca just eighteen years ago. Now it just happen that we also have Robert Plant doing the same song, so let’s give that a listen as well. Well that’s awesome.