This little book is not what I was expecting. I’m not sure *what* I was expecting, actually, but it took me a pretty long time to get into this. When I finally did, though, I was glad I pushed through.
Not quite sure how to describe this. It’s set in an unnamed city in an unnamed country, where nobles live up on the Hill in the city, and poor people and criminals live in Riverside. Both places have complicated and very strict rules of conduct, social codes, and half of the book is the characters navigating those nuances to their advantage, to gain what they want (power, money, sex, humiliation for one’s enemies, the usual). Nobles hire swordsmen to challenge each other by proxy to fights to the death. Our main character Richard is the best swordsman in the city, and as the story starts, he and his lover, Alec, are becoming embroiled in plots and machinations.
The reason I had a hard time getting into this is that everything is plots and intrigue, and characters never saying what they mean (except for Basil, and Richard and (mostly) Alec, which is why they were my favorites). Especially for the first half or so, I felt like I was constantly missing something the book thought was obvious I should be understanding. Characters would be talking to each other and saying things on the surface, but they would be reacting to layers of the conversation that were completely invisible to me. Eventually I just gave up and went along for the ride, hoping most of it would be explained at a later date, or would become clear the more of the world and characters I saw (and I think that did happen).
If you like books with lots of sword fights (the body count in this book is super high for its only being 286 pages!), political intrigue, backstabbing and betrayals, morally suspect characters, and love stories (I kind of can’t believe how gay this book was, and it was published in the 80s!), you might want to check this out. Just know that it does take some getting used to, or at least, it did for me. I’m glad I pushed through.
[3.5 stars, rounded up]
CBR Bingo: Backlog (Review a book that has been on your TBR list for over a year.) Eight years!