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Ellen Kushner & Delia Sherman – The Fall of the Kings

July 25, 2014

57. The Fall of the Kings by Ellen Kushner & Delia Sherman (2002)
Riverside, Book 3

Read my review of book:
1. Swordspoint
2. The Privilege of the Sword

Length: 476 pages
Genre: Fantasy

Started: 02 July 2014
Finished: 12 July 2014

Where did it come from? The Friends of the Library booksale. So, a bit of a story about this. The FotL sale is a big deal here, and it’s usually really crowded. I of course headed straight for the SF/F section, but I couldn’t get right up to the shelf. It was not long after I’d finished The Privilege of the Sword, so I was really excited when I spied this over someone’s shoulder, so I got his attention and asked him to pass it to me. He obligingly pulls it off the shelf, but before he hands it to me, he starts reading the back cover, and making “ooh, this sounds good” noises. I started making flaily “no no no it’s the third book in the series you need to read the others you wouldn’t like it anyways so you should definitely hand that copy over mine mine mine” noises until he finally passed it over. But ack!

Why do I have it? I really enjoyed the first two books in Kushner’s Riverside world.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 12 April 2014.

Kings and wizards are
long gone, but that doesn’t mean
they don’t have power.

Summary: Everyone knows that the kings were mad and corrupt, the wizards that attended the kings were manipulative greedy frauds, and the country has been much better off in the centuries since the last king was deposed, the wizards were outlawed, and the power was handed over to the ruling council of nobility. But for the most part, nobody ever thinks about the subject much… except for Basil St. Cloud, a scholar of Ancient History at the University. His unconventional methods of searching for the truth attracts students, among them the young noble Theron Campion, son of the Mad Duke Tremontaine. Theron is not particularly interested in settling down, following his passions where they lead him. And when they lead him to St. Cloud, both of their lives will be turned upside down, for when it comes to the subject of kings and wizards, the personal can all too easily become political.

Review: Oooh, this was really good. I’m not going to say that it’s better or worse than Kushner’s other Riverside books; it is quite different. It takes place thirty to forty years after The Privilege of the Sword – Katherine is now Duchess Tremontaine and in her 50s. The city is recognizably the same – Theron lives with his mother in his father’s Riverside House – but dueling has more or less fallen out of fashion, and this novel focuses on a part of the city we haven’t seen much of before: namely, the University. This book also has a broader worldbuilding scope than the previous two: we learn more about the rest of the country (other than being “that place where nobles go for the summer”), and about its history. This book is also quite different from the previous two in terms of approach to the genre. While Swordspoint and The Privilege of the Sword were fantasy only inasmuch as they did not take place in a real historical world and time, The Fall of the Kings is much more decidedly fantasy – there is a fair bit of magic, although it’s largely mysticism blending into magic, replacing the swordsplay and some of the political machinations of the first two.

As much as I did enjoy this book – and I did, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute – it did take me a while to get into and read. Part of this may have been the sudden uptick in historical worldbuilding; some amount of infodumping is unavoidable when one of your main characters is a history professor, I suspect. It wasn’t uninteresting by any means, but it also didn’t suck me in right off the bat, either. I also didn’t really feel a strong connection to either Basil or Theron right away. They both have strong shells up to start with, for legitimate reasons, but it almost felt as though they were keeping the reader at a distance along with everyone else. As the story went on, those defenses started to come down, and I got more and more involved with the characters (although I don’t know that I ever loved them as much as I did Alec and Richard) and more involved with the story, but it was a bit of a slow build for me.

But it turns out that I didn’t mind, because “build” is exactly what this story does, and does so very well. Kushner and Sherman co-opt a lot of Celtic/Druidic imagery, of the oak grove and the horned king and the sacrifice to the land. But it almost didn’t feel like borrowing, because this story imbues that imagery with so much power, such a strong feeling of portent and magic and significance. And even though it’s clear fairly early on what everything is building up to, all of the story elements have so much resonance that watching each one slot into place and build up to the conclusion that you know is coming still manages to be almost breathtakingly tense. It’s the kind of book whose power of imagery and illusion is so strong, so real, and so resonant that you can feel it in your chest. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Because this book involves the next generation, it would be just fine as a standalone (so it turns out I lied to the guy at the booksale. Oh well; I’m not sorry in the least!) Recommended for people who like stories of the past impinging on the present, and books with scenes and images that will linger in your head long after you’ve finished them.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Stella Matutina
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: A splatter of red on a discarded boot.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 34: ““Worlds do not change over time, nor the people in them,” Rugg quoted sententiously .” – Given to aphoristic utterances or pompous moralizing.
    .
  • p. 61: ““And I further promise to be there in good time, so that Cousin Katherine may have ample opportunity to tell me what a fribble I am before the other guests come and family loyalty forces her to hold her tongue.”” – A frivolous person.
    .
  • p. 100: ““Is that conduplicatio?” Vandeleur tried to lighten the mood. Theron relaxed a little. “Diacope, actually: repetition to express deep feeling.”” – amplification through the repetition of words; Tmesis, or interpolation of a word or group of words between the parts of a compound word.
    .
  • p. 204: “Galing led the Six-pointed Crown and lost the constellation to Condell’s Eclipse, a tyro‘s error.” – A beginner in learning something.
    .
  • p. 337: “Genevieve Randall wrote to Lord Theron every day, little bbulletins about her new perroquet , or the sculpture-viewing party he had missed, or the plans for her wedding dress and her attendants.” – variant spelling of parakeet.
    .
  • p. 404: ““I didn’t know you dealt in canvas; I thought bibelots and jewels were more your line.”” – A small decorative object; a trinket.
    .
  • p. 441: “At last the Master Governor entered his peroration, made an end, and stepped down” – To conclude a speech with a formal recapitulation.
    .
  • p. 444: ““By ignoring the evidence of the historical record, he paints a false picture of our antecedents, and misprizes the wit and courage of David, Duke Tremontaine, who alone was able to free our land from the tyranny of Gerard the Last King.”” – to fail to appreciate the value of; undervalue or disparage
    .
  • p. 459: ““If we are to have a merry Harvest, the Land must have its mede of blood to quicken it.”” – A merited gift or wage.
    .

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