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Audie Award Finalist, Multi-Voiced Performance, 2014
Audie Award Finalist, Audio Drama, 2014
Award-winning author, narrator, and screenwriter Neil Gaiman personally selected this book, and, using the tools of the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), produced this work for his audiobook label, Neil Gaiman Presents.
A few words from Neil on The Fall of the Kings: "In the Riverside chronology of events, The Fall of the Kings takes place a generation after Swordspoint. If you are new to the world of Riverside, I hope the richness of this book will surprise and delight you, with multi-voiced scenes set like jewels in the gold of Ellen Kushner's narration…."
In this stunning follow-up to Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword and the Audie-award winning Swordspoint, co-author Delia Sherman (The Freedom Maze) joins Ellen to return to that world of labyrinthine intrigue, where sharp swords and even sharper wits rule. This time, they explore the city's University, where a troubled young nobleman and his scholar lover find themselves playing out an ancient drama destined to explode their society's smug view of itself.
In a city grown decadent, myth and magic begin to seep through the ancient stones. Generations ago the last king fell. But the blood of kings runs deep in the land - and the key may be Theron Campion of Tremontaine, a louche beauty of questionable morals seeking to escape his family heritage in the University lecture halls. When he and renegade scholar Basil St. Cloud come together, they discover that the price of uncovering ancient history may be to be forced to repeat it....
Sue Zizza of SueMedia Productions creates some truly stunning sound elements, including a full score of original music by composer Nathanael Tronerud commissioned for this series... with a full supporting cast who bring to life the rich tapestry of passionate University scholars, noblemen in brothels and Riverside lowlifes, in the sophisticated urban setting that Kushner's many fans have come to love.
Gosh I love these books. Having established an unusual fantasy world without magic in the previous two books, the magic of the old kingdom may be making a comeback here. Make sure you read them in the right order or your will be subject to much confusion and spoilers galore. I think the soundscape and partial dramatization of these books really adds to the atmosphere. There's a splendid and apt cameo from Neil Gaiman who is like a god to my people. Ellen Kushner does another good job of reading her own work especially with the more wicked men (Most of the men are very wicked indeed!) If you don't enjoy hearing about hot men getting it on with each other you will not have a good time with this book. If you do enjoy the eroticization of the male body then this book does that very well without being graphic or sleazy about it. It was nice to meet Catherine again as a grown woman as I had become so fond of her as a teenage swords(wo)man in Privilege of the Sword.
Now I want a book about Jessica, please.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
About half way through part one, the audio becomes fuzzy and unclear. Disappointing as I enjoy the story very much.
Although the three books in this Riverside series do follow on one from another, they are somewhat separated in time, and the characters with major roles in the previous episodes are minor in or absent from this one (or are dead). The writing style, unsurprisingly, stays the same, but t there is an element of mysticism and even magic that pervades 'the Fall of the Kings' not present in the other books. I don't find that it fits well with the context as previously created in the earlier books. The mystical themes arise out of what appears to be the author's near obsession with the power of gay sex. Heterosexual sex in this book tends to be associated with brothels and marriages for dynastic purposes; the descriptions are brief or non-existent. There are by contrast numerous, and seemingly endless gushing descriptions of gay encounters, based on love, or power, or manipulation or several at once; these encounters and/or relationships are in many cases life- or even world-changing whereas in others they are as inconsequential as a handshake. There are also one or two gay orgies in the woods or bars, in some cases associated with rituals and emotions that overpower otherwise sensible people. These passages are not at all pornographic, or even graphic in any way, but many feel over-romanticized, or between extremely unlikely partners, or in some cases just ludicrous.
I generally enjoyed this audiobook. However, with the story slowing on occasion to a near standstill, and the same doubt I expressed in earlier reviews about the main reader, I cannot give a particularly good score.
Often fantasy fiction relies on escapism through the fantastic, so it’s refreshing when you come across a book like The Fall of the Kings that kind of skewers that the fantastic necessarily equates escape. The Fall of the Kings is very much a left turn from Swordspoint. Instead of centering around the violent, sexy swordsmen nobles contract to fight duels on their behalf, this book focuses on the politics of university and scholarship, trading swordplay for academic debates, with charismatic professors. Really, it’s the Dead Poet’s Society of Wizarding History, and it’s a fascinating study for fantasy fans.
The story is primarily about two men: Basil St. Cloud, a renegade scholar determined on discovering the hidden, taboo truths of the ancient kings (who were overthrown and executed by the nobles hundreds of years earlier) and their wizards. That’s right, wizards. It appears there just might be magic in Riverside, or there once was. And ever since the Fall of the Kings, even the discussion of magic has been outlawed (a detail that neatly explains why magic was so completely absent from Swordspoint). St. Cloud soon enters into a romantic relationship with aristocratic student Theron Campion – the son of the Mad Duke of Tremontaine – who bears resemblance to some of the ancient kings Basel has studied. Together their discoveries and passions concerning the secret truths of magic, the kings, and their wizards threaten to have consequences. To some degree, it puts me in mind of China Miéville’s The City & The City, and M. John Harrison’s In Viriconium (the last novel of the Viriconium cycle). It’s a novel that is very much playing against type, and questioning our typical expectations and desires of the fantastic. Will magic come back to the land? Is that really a good thing?
I’ve talked a lot about this being a sequel to Swordspoint, but I hadn’t realized until about halfway through the book that while this novel takes place some 60 years after The Privilege of the Sword, it was published four years before that novel was. I didn’t find it anywhere near as accessible and delightful as The Privilege of the Sword, or as thrilling as Swordspoint, but I don’t think that’s really the point. It’s a love letter to academia, and I think it’s more challenging than the other two books (and I mean that as a compliment). I’m also somewhat astonished by how little violence there is for the majority of this novel – something that pleases me in a genre that seems to depend on violence in order to be entertaining (and I say that as someone who is usually entertained by good fantasy novels, but also as someone who has noticed a disturbing trend).
Kushner’s narration is excellent (of course!) and the illuminated cast general does very solid work, as does the illuminated cast (I particularly liked the actor who played Justice Blake). I’m pretty bummed this is the final book in the series, partially due to how unique Kushner and Sue Zizza make this listening experience). My only complaint about the narration is a very odd one – it takes a little bit of work to hear Nick Sullivan, who played the deliciously wicked Lord Ferris in the other two Riverside novels, as the romantic historian hero St. Cloud. That’s not to take anything away from how strong his performance is here – it’s nice to hear Sullivan not be such a monster for a change. But Lord Ferris’ shadow always seems to be lingering whenever Sullivan began talking. (Though this was probably emphasized by me listening to this novel right after The Privilege of the Sword.)
In the final analysis, The Fall of the Kings is a unique kind of fantasy novel – one that challenges our expectations concerning magic and escapism in fantasy fiction. While I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as I did the other books in this series, I do appreciate that it did something very different from what we’re used to in fantasy fiction, and I found that refreshing.
16 of 17 people found this review helpful
Imagine Gandalf and Aragorn as lovers, the wizard choosing, advising, and sexing the king, the pair exchanging bodily fluids to make the land fertile! In The Fall of the Kings (2002), Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman queer the typical fantasy genre relationship between kings and wizards. Is their novel a bracing revision, a political passion, an unsavory folly, or just a well-written steamy same-sex romance fantasy about history, authority, truth, duty, art, love, and family? Maybe all of that.
Taking place about sixty years after the events of Kushner's earlier Swordspoint (1987) and about 45 years after those of her later The Privilege of the Sword (2006), The Fall of the Kings is set in her Elizabethan-esque secondary world centered around an anonymous city growing outward from its ancient island of origin, Riverside, home to a demimonde of pickpockets, prostitutes, artists, and the like now that the nobles have moved to the Hill across the river. The book begins with Theron Campion, the posthumous son of Alec, the Mad Duke Tremontaine, being dumped by Ysaud, a gifted artist who's finished using him as a model for a series of paintings featuring scenes from the legendary past, a man murdering his king-lover, a man staring at his stag reflection in a pool of water, a band of nude young men dancing around a fire, and so on. Will Theron find a new lover after having his heart broken? And will he find a way to balance his duties as future Duke with finding his bliss? Meanwhile, the wannabe intelligencer lordling Nicholas Galing yearns to be of use to the mysterious Serpent Chancellor Lord Arlen, who seems to be concerned about some possible royalist plotting in the city (two-hundred years earlier the nobles killed the last king and established a Council of Lords). A third plot strand features the university doctor of ancient history Basil St Cloud, who is practicing and teaching a revolutionary method, that of discovering new truth about history by examining primary source documents instead of rehashing the work of past authority figures. St Cloud's fixation on proving that kings were good, wizards benign, and magic real won't prove treasonous, will it?
Kushner and Sherman interestingly introduce the possibility of magic into the unmagical world of Riverside, develop the university, and detail the rich history of the city as far back as 500 years ago when the northern and southern cultures united. Unfortunately, the novel could have been shorter without harming its virtues, over-full as it is with portentous dream after portentous dream, provocative scholarly find after provocative scholarly find, intense confrontation after intense confrontation, bawdy seasonal festival after bawdy seasonal festival, aristo society event after aristo society event. The climax does not quite live up to its promising and lengthy build up, and the resolution left me feeling, "Is that all there is?"
In Kushner's earlier Swordspoint, I liked the relationship between young Alec Campion (the Mad Duke to be) and his swordsman lover Richard St Viers, and had no problem with their tasteful sex scenes, because Kushner wrote them sparingly and I liked the characters. In The Fall of the Kings, Kushner and Sherman posit a secret centuries-old northern ritualistic tradition by which the old king is sacrificed and a new king chosen by wizards from among his young male "companions" in a stag-hunt climaxing in group sex in a sacred grove, all of which was ostensibly to confirm the tie between king and land. Fair enough. But Theron imagining becoming a stag to rut with a stag (instead of a doe) to make the land fertile seems odd. And there is just so much sex alluded to or discreetly depicted in the book, the majority male-male, with a bit of female-female and male-female tossed in for spice, that it began to numb me (almost as much as too many violent action scenes do in typical genre fantasy). Perhaps the most fantastic thing here is that no one ever catches any STDs.
Theron's half-sister Jessica, "the Pirate Queen," injects new life into the novel and there are great moments in it, including one where a set of paintings becomes a sacred grove and another where Basil tries a magical text: "The letters lay dark and heavy on the page. Basil stared at the secret tongue. It teased him, dared him. . . He picked out the letters, and spoke two syllables aloud. They felt strange in his mouth, as if he were picking up pebbles or nuts and trying them on his tongue." Although Theron is rather shallow, self-centered, and lame (to me), other characters are interesting, like the unlikeable Henry Fremont, the obsessed Galing, and the brilliant and impractical St Cloud. The texture of secondary world creation is dense and intriguing. And I tip my cap to Kushner and Sherman for attempting to revivify the typical wizard-king relationship.
As with the audiobook versions of the other two Riverside novels, this one is "illuminated," Kushner reading most of it, and a handful of other men and women doing character voices in key scenes. I'd prefer either to hear the entire book read by the excellent Kushner or to hear it all read by the various readers. And although the music enhances the moods of the scenes, the redundant sound effects, from the striking of a "lucifer" (match) to the cheering of a crowd, disturb the immersive listening experience. After hearing someone knocking on a door, I don't then need the narrator to say, "a soft knock at the door heralded Terrance."
Finally, readers new to Kushner's Riverside books should read them in internal chronological order, Swordspoint followed by Privilege of the Sword, because although each book can stand alone, The Fall of the Kings is less satisfying than the others.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Would you try another book from Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman and/or the narrators?
I'd be happy to read a proper sequel to the first two books. This one, unfortunately, changes the rules of the game rather drastically. What goes on here seems completely out of place. This book should in fact be the first of a set of two or three, because the ending accomplishes absolutely nothing. Without another book or two, this one is pointless.
What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?
Performances are the only really good thing about this book, but the second book - with two primary readers - was a much better production. Still, it is quite amazing that the primary author can perform as well as she does.
You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?
It's well enough written for what it is, but it has nothing to recommend itself. It sets up a lot of interesting possibilities within the world of the first two books but ultimately fails to capitalize on any of them. It also offers virtually (but not quite) nothing to someone who wants to follow up on the characters of either of the first two books.
Any additional comments?
It didn't suck totally, so it got two stars.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
It's no secret that I absolutely adore Ellen Kushner's "Riverside" series, and "The Fall of the Kings" is perhaps the deepest and richest of the three. Co-written with Delia Sherman, "The Fall of the Kings" depicts the fine lines between history and legend, science and magic, obsession and love.
Theron Campion, elegant young nobleman-about-town, has recovered from his unhappy love affair with a scandalous artist, and is ready to indulge in a new romance with the idealistic young magister of history, Basil St Cloud. But St Cloud has an obsession of his own: the study of the ancient kings, their wizards, and their magic. But such a study is forbidden in the City, and Basil and Theron's passionate affair has dangerous ramifications neither could imagine.
The story in itself is glorious – I've never wanted so desperately to visit the City as I do now that the University district has come alive in such richness and vivid detail. As often as I've read and reread the Riverside books, it's always a treat to hear Ellen Kushner reading them! She knows just where to put the emphasis, and her narration is alternately gentle, amused, dreamlike, and sensual. (The romance here is between two men, so if that is something that might bother you, be forewarned.)
Ms Kushner has described the aesthetics of the "illumination" as, "You're listening to me read you the story, and then you start to dream it, that it's come to life...", and that's a perfect description. Nick Sullivan, whom I loved to hate as the villain in the other "Riverside" books ("Swordspoint" and "The Privilege of the Sword") is eminently swoonworthy as the idealistic Basil St Cloud, while Ryan McCabe conveys Theron's peculiarly innocent qualitities perfectly. The Student's Ensemble made me laugh out loud – they got it so very right! And Nate Tronerud's fabulous music adds so much depth and color to the tapestry. I think this has got to be my favorite of his three "Riverside" scores.
Listening to this audiobook was like a happy dream, but one which I'll get to enjoy over and over. Thank you, Ellen and Delia, for writing this book, and thank you, Neil Gaiman, for adding it to your Audible series! It will be a joy for years to come.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful
This is a real treat, a wonderful performance of a very enjoyable book.
Set in the world of Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint and The Privilege of the Sword, it's about forty or fifty years after Privilege. Katherine is Duchess Tremontaine, and Theron, Alec's posthumous son from his very late marriage to Sofia, now a physician and a Doctor of the University, is her heir presumptive.
He's also young, romantic, a poet, and an eternal student, flitting from one field of study to another, currently studying rhetoric. His heart broken (most recently) by the artist Isolde, who painted him for a year and then was done with him, he meets the dynamic young magister, Doctor of History Basil St. Cloud.
St. Cloud doesn't know this about himself yet, but he's a budding radical, a specialist in ancient history who is starting to go back to primary sources, and beginning to suspect that the despised wizards that the equally despised "mad" ancient kings brought south with them were not all charlatans and frauds.
When St. Cloud, trouble-making scholar, and Theron Campion, descendant of Duke David, the killer of the last king, but also of that last king's sister, fall in love, they set in motion political and emotional upheaval that will rock the city.
We see parts of city life absent from the earlier novels, and an exploration of why, until now, these have been fantasy novels without magic. We finally get some sense of the larger kingdom, and how it works for those who are neither the privileged class nor the Riversiders.
The performance is in every way excellent. The voices are well matched to their characters, with sound effects and transitional music that enhance the sense of being drawn into the world of the story.
I bought this book.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Really slow and anticlimatic. Mostly it is focused on a bunch of wizards sleeping with each other for no reason. I'm also not sure what Neil Gaiman had to do with the book. I believe he voiced on character that was almost never in the story.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Kushner's style is very very very dialogue heavy, I know that. This book was even more so. The story went nowhere and it went there very slowly. This story felt like a soap opera, all smut and no substance. The characters that were engaging were rare and had small parts. Then suddenly all the action happens at the end and no one really talks about anything. It's like the writers had a deadline to finish the book.
The performances of the readers are the only reason to listen to the audio. Even with such great readers, you'll find yourself struggling to stay until the end.
6 of 10 people found this review helpful
i was so wrapped up in the climax of the story i drove right past my exit.
Very pleasurable listen while working. Light enough to do other things at the same time and at the same time captivating!
Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?
It feels like this is a completely different world than the first two. Magic? Northern barbarians? It's all university intrigue, there's barely a blade in sight, and there was not a trace of the quick wit and pacing of the first two.
I was sorely disappointed.
What could Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?
Sorry Delia, but I really think you should have written your own story and let Ellen write this in her own setting.
Which character – as performed by the narrators – was your favorite?
Was The Fall of the Kings worth the listening time?
The first half showed promise. The rest severely dashed that promise.