Tag Archives: Reviews

Book Review: Swordspoint

SwordspointI’m going to start off very up front: Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner is one of my favorite novels of all time. So this is a pretty glowing review.

Swordspoint is one of the definitive books in the mannerspunk sub-genre. It’s a fantasy novel in that it takes place in a fictional world, but it calls itself a “melodrama of manners” about a swordsman named Richard and his lover, a mysterious and self-destructive young man named Alec.

Richard and Alec live in Riverside, which is sort of the commoner half of an unnamed city-state. The nobility live on the Hill across the river and there are other POV characters on that side of things.

The story is somewhat labyrinthine, with political intrigue and plots-within-plots that unfold along the way. The characters are compelling and likable, despite mostly being somewhat horrible people. For the romantics among you, the love story isn’t the point, but it’s very present.

Swordspoint is the first book in the Riverside Series, with two other novels and several short stories. Kushner’s writing is nuanced, with some beautiful use of language. There’s always something bittersweet about these stories, never wholly happy, but I love them desperately. They’re fantastic.



Book Review: The Marlowe Papers

Marlowe PapersAs I’ve already established, I read a lot. So why not review some of the things I read, right? Break up the blog content a little bit.

Anyway, after giving it much consideration, I’ve decided to review something I read a few weeks ago: The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber. A “novel in verse” about the playwright Christopher Marlowe, working off the premise that his death was staged and he spent the rest of his life in exile writing new plays as William Shakespeare.

I should probably mention that, not only do I have a degree in English literature, my focus was Early Modern (Shakespeare, Milton, and, yes, Marlowe). I am well acquainted with blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter), Marlowe himself, his plays, and the Shakespeare authorship debate.

Did I love this? No. But I did like it.

The verse itself is quite good, with really lovely use of language, and I enjoyed it on that level. However, the story is only moderately successful. Barber just didn’t do enough to make me believe the Marlowe theory. Supposedly, this was part of her PhD work, but I found it academically weak. Interesting, yes, but the scholarship isn’t concrete enough to persuade me that Marlowe was Shakespeare.

Which is unfortunate because I actually prefer Marlowe’s plays.

This is a book that I have trouble recommending. If you don’t like reading verse, you’ll struggle with it, and I suspect that it might be hard to follow if you aren’t already familiar with Marlowe as a historical figure. If, like me, you are keen on blank verse and this period, it’s worth a read. If only because it is something very different.