August 17, 2004

The Fall of the Kings by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman

coverThe Fall of the Kings is not exactly a sequel to Kushner's 1987 novel Swordspoint. All I remember about the earlier book is that it had a stratified society with a complex social structure that included the use of sword duels to resolve disputes. For the most part the duels were fought not by the disputants, but by trained professionals either hired for the purpose or kept on staff should the need arise.

The Fall of the Kings takes place many years later. Unlike with some fantasy sequels, there has been some evolution in the culture since the first book. Blood duels are no longer an everyday occurrence. But the practice is still in the psyche of the characters, and the concept of challenge and formalised resolution of disputes is still part of their society.

The book centers on college history professor Basil St. Cloud and on his lover, Theron Campion, a young and wild aristocrat.

One of the facets of the society is that sexual relationships have no standard gender identification. There is no stigma on same sex relationships. Not only is there no stigma, there seems to be no preference with many characters in the book pairing up with members of either gender at different points in the story. I mention all this not because it has anything to do with the plot of the novel per se, but just because Kushner and Sherman do such a good job of writing around such a subtle and pervasive difference from our own culture. It's refreshing to read a book where sexual preference is such a non-issue.

St. Cloud is a rebel in the university with his insistence on extending knowledge of history by reference to primary sources in contrast to the prevailing mode of his college which is to endlessly re-evaluate the evaluations of past historians. His investigation of primary sources leads him to belive some things about the past kings and their wizards that are not socially acceptable.

I don't want to give too much away. Many of the characters are plotting against each other in ways that make perfect sense to the plotters, but that you can see as a reader are completely misguided and doomed to failure. The story relates the collision of magic, art, passion, myth, history, love, politics, and scholarship.

Posted by jeffy at August 17, 2004 10:21 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?