Swordspoint Critical Essays

Ellen Kushner


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint is an elegant, witty, and deliciously nasty tale that concerns itself primarily with codes of honor and highly mannered forms of behavior. Although Swordspoint refers to itself as a fairy tale, the book actually started a subgenre called “fantasy-of-manners.” The books that fall into this category rely on the manners of a period, whether real or imaginary, as the impetus for their plots. Other books that fall into the fantasy-of-manners category include Delia Sherman’s Through a Brazen Mirror (1989), a retelling of a folk ballad that includes homosexual overtones and is set in a rigidly structured medieval world; Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s Sorcery and Cecilia (1988), an epistolary Regency romance replete with sorcerous doings; and Steven Brust’s The Phoenix Guards (1991), which is a thinly disguised parody/homage to Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (1844).

Swordspoint was also the predecessor for a spate of books in which the protagonists are exceedingly casual about their homosexual or bisexual tendencies. These books are not so much political messages about sexuality, as was, for example, Joanna Russ’s landmark feminist novel The Female Man (1975). Instead they allow the sexual orientation of the character to simply exist: It is not integral to whether the character is perceived as moral or amoral.

Although in...

(The entire section is 424 words.)