Saturday, September 08, 2007

Review: The Fall of Kings

Kushner & Sherman wrote this book before the recent Privilege of the Sword, but the book takes place a good forty years after that book and sixty years after Swordspoint.

The novel involves a University professor, Basil St. Cloud, and of course, a scion of the Tremontaine, Alec Campion, the heir to the duchy. The two are involved in a romantic gay affair (nearly everyone in Kushner's novel is gay or at least bisexual), while St. Cloud's position as a professor revolves around some seemingly innocuous politics.

The politics takes a sinister turn when Basil St. Cloud challenges another professor to an academic debate revolving the ancient kings of the land and their wizards. The political authorities are not amused, as there has been recent uprisings in the North and trouble-makers from the North have come to the city asking for a return to the Monarchy.

St. Cloud comes across an ancient spellbook, and wheels begin to move, as St. Cloud and Campion re-enact the ancient relationships between Wizard and King, and St. Cloud learns the truth behind the land he lives in.

The prose is well-written, and the characters if a little wooden, quite compelling. Though I suspect that Kushner has only a few templates for the male characters --- all her men seem either treacherous, feckless, or mad, the story seems competently handled.

So why did I feel this book to be a disappointment? The book reminds me of the ancient days of American television, where the goal was that each episode returned the universe to status quo, so that script writers could all write episodes independently knowing that everything will be untouched. Characters could get married in TV shows as long as their spouses got killed off at the end of each episode, resulting in a staleness to the long running shows, as nobody ever seemed to remember events between each episode.

Similarly, The Fall of Kings seemed determined to leave Kushner's lovely toy set and stage reset by the end of the novel, rather than taking the story to its natural conclusion. This veering away from substantial change in the setting and landscape left the novel with a bad taste in my mouth, and diminished my opinion of Ellen Kushner's serial works by a notch.

Not recommended.
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