I've been reading The Fall of the Kings
on the bus and today I really started to get into it. Among other things I'm being reminded, again and again, just why I love Ellen Kushner's style so much. Here's one of my favorite scenes so far, from an exchange between two of the university professors. They're discussing the father of Theron Campion - Alec of Swordspoint
Basil gave up trying to be subtle. "Lenoard," he said as lightly as he could. "Who is Theron Campion's father?"
"Oh, you don't know? He's dead; be well over eighty now. Something in your line, I'd thinkk, St Cloud, being history and all: he was Tremontaine, the Mad Duke. That one."
Basil said absently, I don't do modern history," while his mind raced, trying to place the late Duke Tremontaine.
"No more do you," said Rugg, amusedl. "Listen carefully, then; there'll be a test when I'm done." He began ticking points off on his fingers: "Scandal number one: young noble went to University to study instead of to drink. Not done back then - not sure about now, either, but at least there's a pretense. Scandal number two: got kicked out, went to live with a swordsman in Riverside. Not done then either - living there, I mean. Not like now. Watch wouldn't even go there then. Scandal number three: inherits Tremontaine and fills the house with scholars, reprobates, and lovers of all, ah, shapes and sizes. Men, women, even historians." He dug his elbow into Basil's side. "If you know what I mean. The list goes on and on. Bestowed a rather colorful bastard on the city, too, though I hear she left town long ago. Scandal number ... What was I up to?"
"Four," said Basil, fascinated.
"Scandal number four: he was driven into exile, passing the duchy to his niece, the Lady Katherine Talbert. Then back he comes, years later, with a beautiful foreigner in tow, who claims to be his lawful wife, and conveniently produces a legitimate heir two months after the Mad Duke's death."
"And the beautiful foreigner is the Lady Sophia."
"Damned queer woman. But odds are the boy will inherit on his cousin's death."
"Inherit the duchy?"
"So it really doesn't matter what he studies, does it?"
"On the contrary," said Basil shortly. "I think it matters a great deal. If there's one thing history has to teach us, it's the importance of educating the ruling class in the realities of life."
Rugg laughed. "They'll hardly learn that in University, dear boy."
"Oh, I don't know," a voice above them drawled. "Unheated lecture rooms, watered beer, incomprehensible feuds, indiscriminate sex, casual violence, and a general shortage of sleep seems uncommonly like real life to me."
That last bit was said by Theron Campion himself, the man whose father was under discussion. The first part of the "scandal" is recounted in Swordspoint
, and I gather the book I'm reading now is actually the third book in the series - so I'm guessing the rest is more or less a recap of Privilege of the Sword
. The thing is, it doesn't feel
like a retelling. It feels nostalgic in the first part, a rich history in the second, and cunningly told throughout. It's like friends playing at gossips, only they're not really even friends, and then the way Rugg just handles the way Theron turns up like that?
I am feeling thoroughly swoony once again. Seriously. And I didn't think it could happen without Richard and Alec, but St Basil is brilliant
and the fact that he's a humanities scholar only makes it that much better. Because Theron is in my life
in a very real way - I know people who react every bit like this, only not quite so brilliantly.
Also: if you're a Kushner fan, and you missed Ann's post, do check out this Swordspoint/Sherlock crossover
. If nothing else check out Ann's review because I think her head just went splodey with the awesomeness of it all. (And yes, it really is that good!
(ETA: Obviously the people I know aren't seducing or being seduced by students. But the rest of it, the "incomprehensible feuds" and "general shortage of sleep" and all the rest - yep, exactly.)