The Fall of the Kings

Kushner, Ellen and Delia Sherman. The Fall of the Kings. New York: Bantam Books, 2002. ISBN 0-553-38184-9, tp, 473 pp., $13.95.

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(This review originally appeared in Mythprint 40:7 (#256) in July 2003.)

Reviewed by Matthew Scott Winslow

Ellen Kushner made quite the splash sixteen years ago with her debut novel, Swordspoint about sword for hire Richard St. Vier and his adventures and intrigues in the fictional fantasy city which Ms. Kushner herself described as “not-quite-equal parts of Elizabethan London, 18th century Paris, a dash of Regency of both, and even a little New York….” So rich and lush was Ms. Kushner’s novel that many of us fantasy readers knew there was something special here. Then three years later came the retelling of the Thomas the Rhymer legend in a novel of the same name, and again Ms. Kushner reminded us of how skilled a novelist she is, going on to win the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award in 1991. And then, for a dozen or so years, Ms. Kushner would tempt us with an occasional short story (some of which were set in the world of Swordspoint), but not much else. Now, finally, after much waiting, we finally have a new novel from Ms. Kushner, co-written by another well-accomplished and MFA-winning author, Delia Sherman.

The Fall of the Kings takes place in the same world as Swordspoint, but fifty or so years after the earlier novel (and the main characters from Swordspoint make a cameo appearance), but this is definitely a stand-alone novel and no knowledge of the previous novel is needed.

The city of Riverside has for many years been ruled by a council of lords, ever since the kings who kept wizards as their counselors were dethroned many years ago. So much time has passed that many of the stories about the kings have come to be legends and myths that scholars at the university study and debate. However, the men from the north still believe very much in the kings and want to restore them to the throne.

Basil St. Cloud is one of the university’s scholars who is trying to unravel the many myths that have grown up around the fall of the kings to discover what really happened. Simultaneously, St. Cloud falls in love with a young noble, Theron Campion (son of one of the main characters from Swordspoint), and their affair slowly takes on aspects of the relationship of the ancient kings with their wizards.

The subtitle of Swordspoint was “A Melodrama of Manners,” but The Fall of the Kings takes on a completely different feel. With this novel, we are treated to political subterfuge mixed with strong mythic overtones. But the writing is as strong as ever one could expect from these two exceptional authors. I know from conversations I’ve had with other Society members that this novel is not everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, it’s a definite winner and if it wins this year’s MFA, I would not be upset.

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