The classic forerunner to The Fall of the Kings
returns to print--now featuring three previously uncollected short stories that link Swordspoint
to Kushner & Sherman's new novel, plus a new Afterword by the author."
My first novel, Swordspoint, was set in a city that remains nameless to this day. Despite that, I have never found it difficult to find my way there, and now have two novels and a few short stories set in that place, and another novel planned. I invite you to join me there.
The setting is an unnamed city, the capital of an unnamed city state. It is currently ruled by a Council of Lords who overthrew the monarchy more than 200 years earlier. Some readers call the city "Riverside," but that's just the name of the little island in the river where Swordspoint's protagonists live. It's inspired by all the cities I have read about, studied, and walked in, and loved the best: Elizabethan London, 18th century Paris, modern New York, and a few dozen others.....
I was very young when I first began writing Swordspoint. I was just out of college, living on West 110th Street, on Manhattan's Upper West Side. In those days it was a tough, edgy place: today's luxury condo's were then SRO's for guys who howled at night and girls who charged by the hour, or cramped refuges for new immigrants, or the dusty warrens of scholars, actors and musicians. I adored it. But I wondered what it would be like to be able to walk on the streets without always having to look over your shoulder. I was also reading a lot Fritz Leiber's "Lankhmar" stories then, some Sherlock Holmes, Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Dunnett, Damon Runyon, Charles Dickens and the occasional Blue Boy . . . . .
Swordspoint’s main characters, the swordsman Richard St. Vier and the difficult Alec (whom Michael Swanwick so memorably called “the boyfriend from hell”) were very much expressions of my own personal weirdnesses, fears and desires back then. It was not always comfortable writing about them, and it took me a long time, as I struggled with the inadequacies of my skills as a first-time novelist, too!
As I explain in my new Afterword to the new edition from Bantam/Spectra (February, 2003), I never intended to write anything else in the same setting. Much as I loved my city and its people, I just couldn’t see trying to turn them into an adorable series of repetitive anecdotes. But I did miss them. A lot. And so I let the occasional short story slip out. But in each one, I tried to challenge myself to find something new in the material.
And so, in “The Swordsman whose Name was not Death,” we discover more about Alec and his family (and both men’s misogyny). “The Death of the Duke,” a kind of fantasia on endings and beginnings, was also the prelude to my next novel, The Fall of the Kings (written with Delia Sherman), about Alec’s posthumous son Theron. Bantam decided to collect these stories in the new edition of Swordspoint. . . along with “Red-Cloak,” my very first professional sale, a story that introduced Richard, Alec and Riverside to me (and to the world) – in a somewhat different form! In fact, it took me many false starts before I could get from “Red-Cloak” to a complete draft of the novel Swordspoint. See, I kept trying to write snappy little short stories about these guys, none of which really worked – until my friends finally said, “Forget it, Ellen, they all read like chapters from a novel – now write it!”
Easier said than done.
But in the end, I did it. Please join me there.