Swordpoint is in the fantasy of manners genre. It was written back in the 80’s. The fantasy of manners genre feature stories in an alternate realm with no magic but with machinery and polite speech of a medieval or a renaissance world. Sort like Jane Austen but with a little more realism. Personally, I do not care for the genre. The book also features homosexual relationships in a positive light.
The book centers around an illiterate Richard St Vier a swordsman who fights in proxy the duels of nobles. He has a mysterious beau Alec who is a university dropout and specialises in making cutting remarks and demanding niceties for their poor home. Richard seems to be the stereotypical Guy with muted emotions and acting like the man of house in providing the finances for the home with winnings from his swordfights. Alec demands Richard take of the house. He sits by the fire reads all day and makes very sarcastic remarks. He manipulates social suitations so that Richard is forced to defend himself usually to the point of the death. He has a very morbid moods and is given to hysteria. It is soon revealed that Alec has a biting secret.
A scheming nobleman Ferris wants St Vier to off a political opponent of his. There is a back and forth on the scheming in the rich world which slowly engulfs St Vier and Alec, and the strength of their relationship is tested. Alec is used as a pawn, St Vier fights to save him, then St Vier put to trial and Alec uses his manipulative talent to save him.
My main fault in the book is the flatness of Richard. He kills a lot. He is required to kill but the killing is usually for the sake of petty rich quarrels, or stupid chest pounding from stupid men. Yet he does not express any sort of ruffled feelings on his art. I suppose it is hammer in the reality of profession. However, no character in the book really serves as a moral center for the sordid business. It really bugged me.
Richard is also very flat very with respect to Alec. For a main character, I did not get a handle on why Richard is so drawn to Alec. Alec is very demanding fragile personality. I hoped it was little more than a protective instinct on Richard’s part. It seemed more complex than that. Alec is captured, Richard is very flat in that. Richard gets dumped in prison, and he is still flat. Alec leaves him suddenly, and he is very cold in his feelings. In the final end when things are alright again, Richard is still very flat. I wished for more here.
We understand Alec is little more because he is a tortured soul, in my opinion too dramatically tortured. The reason for his craziness seemed rather trite to me in the end, like most of the machinations and scheming in the book. It is hard to take the nobles and their concerns seriously when they sip daintily their chocolate (their stimulant of choice).
There is a lot of witty banter to enjoy. The relationship between Alec and Richard thrives on banter. I felt some of their banter was exclusionary, like you were eavesdropping on a secret conversation between lovers. Some of the dialogue felt like dialogue for the sake of dialogue.
That said, the book is still enjoyable. The writing is superb. Ellen has an ear for witty dialogue. Her writing style is literate even though the book is still an easy read. The kindle version is not cheap though seven bucks. In hindsight, I would not pay that much for this book.