I was looking for an alternative to the urban fantasy audiobooks that I usually listen to and I had a credit from Audible that wasn’t dedicated to a work I had promised to review, so I cast my eye around in the fiction section here and spotted Ellen Kushner’s mannerpunk novel, Swordspoint.
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.
I’m not here to review these splendid novels, that together would make a splendid winter-long read curled up in your favorite reading spot with many cups of hot chocolate, as that has already been done, but I am here to discuss The Swords of Riverside audiobook
Where to start is obvious and that would be the narrator, who’s Ellen Kushner. She has one of the best voices and styles I’ve been privileged to hear, and I can hear the obvious pleasure she takes in telling her story, one where manners, be it in conducting an assignation, arranging a sword fight, or simply gossiping over small cups of hot chocolate, counts as much as life itself to almost all involved.
Now take that sterling narration and add in a number of voice actors to bring the various characters to life: to wit, Neil Gaiman (who provides an excellent preface), Felicia Day, Barbara Rosenblat, Katherine Kellgren, Dion Graham, Simon Jones, and Nick Sullivan according to the Audible website. Indeed, our author wrote additional lines for scenes where multiple voices would be heard, say a marketplace or a crown in a theatre. In listening to it I could not tell which voices Kushner did and which were done by the other cast, a true sign of a work well dramatized.
Now add in a music appropriate to the setting (I picture the setting as a city state in an England that fractured after the Commonwealth years and where guns were banned so only swords exist) which is to say spritely classical music with a soupçon of folk elements. It’s used a lot, mostly between scenes but also in the background.
Finally add some of the best Foley work you’ll be likely to hear in an audio work — sword fights of course, but also footsteps, fires cracking, and other as need be.
If you like a good fantasy sans any magical elements, you’ll love this; if you like snappy, biting dialogue, by all means this is for for you; and if like a good mannerpunk set in a place that never existed, you’ll love this!