And here I’m going to share my thoughts on one of the best historical fantasy series out there.
Let’s start with the official blurb:
‘On the treacherous streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. Within this elite, dangerous world, Richard St Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless- until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead a of awe, and the city discovers that the line between hero and villain can be altered in the blink of an eye .’
Ellen Kushner’s Riverside trilogy (or Riverside series, now that we have a proper prequel added to the three classic novels) is more than simply good books; it has basically invented the whole ‘non-magical fantasy’ sub-genre. I’ve already mentioned it here; now it’s the time for a proper review.
The novels are set in a nameless City. I would have called it a recognizable Georgian London (though the titular Riverside district has a lot in common with the Shakespearean Southwark), if not for two significant changes. First of all, the monarchy has been overthrown centuries ago, the country is ruled by the Council of Lords, and the local equivalent of the 5th of November includes the burning of a straw king. Second of all, there is a class of professional swordsmen for hire, in case you are incapable (or unwilling) to fight your own duels.
Richard St.Vier the protagonist is one of the best in this dangerous trade. However, working for the rich and powerful has its drawbacks, and one day he stumbles into a murderous political intrigue, crossing several ambitious men – and one very dangerous woman. At the same time, his brooding boyfriend Alec nurses some secrets of his own…
Now, you must have guessed by the introduction, that I have absolutely loved this novel. More than anything, I adored the worldbuilding. The setting is such a vivid, vibrant city, with its bookshops and its gutters, its coffee-houses and its theatres, the fencing schools where retired swordsmen teach eager youths, the elegant mansions where society ladies discuss politics…
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