The Fall of the Kings by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman

Posted by Mrs Giggles on December 4, 2002 in 2 Oogies, Book Reviews, Genre: Fantasy & Sci-fi

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The Fall of the Kings by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman
The Fall of the Kings by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman

Bantam, $13.95, ISBN 0-553-38184-9
Fantasy, 2002

Sequel of sorts to Swordspoint.

Okay, nothing will probably ever match Swordspoint and it is no use trying to hope for another Swordspoint in The Fall of the Kings. But this book is a very unevenly paced read, the first two-thirds filled with so much self-indulgent ramblings about academia that I have a hard time staying awake. When the cast seems to consist of interchangeable hippie dipsticks, I wonder what the heck am I reading: a fantasy novel or an embittered member of the academia ranting and raving about the evil of university bureaucracy?

I can empathize with the latter, but I didn’t pay $13.95 for some unwelcome nostalgia about cackling evil Vice-Chancellors, troll Heads of Department, and neurotic, whiny liberal art hippie dipstick undergrads who walk around believing that the world owes them a love revolution. Of course, the physicists and scientists and mathematicians are depicted as anti-progress while the hippie dipsticks, in their cornucopia of indiscriminate copulation, drinking, and whining, are always the heroes of the day. How nice. Maybe this is the Hippie Dipstick Revenge: while science people make lots of money, hippie dipsticks batter away at their lousy laptop believing that if they write enough stories portraying themselves saving the day, they can alter reality and finally get the revolution they crave so badly.

Still, it’s hard not to want to like this book so much. I have tried so hard to find any excuse to give this book a keeper grade. I mean, the authors are unapologetic big fans of Dorothy Dunnett – you can’t get any cooler than that, can you? – and their frank author’s bio is a hoot. The last third of The Fall of the Kings is good, but by then it’s pretty much too late for me. I’m always numbed by the relentless whoring, buggering, whining, and self-entitlement.

Basically, this is a story starring Theron Campion, the pathetic shadow of the hero Alec in Swordspoint (Theron is Alec’s son) and his lover, the University magister Basil St Cloud who is obsessed with the study of the fall of the ancient monarchs in history. Set sixty years after Swordspoint, this story attempts to expand its scope in politics and history of the world this story is set in. Well, now it turns out that the little corner of this fantasy world is ruled by a group of noblemen. Once, powerful kings and their wizards rule this land, but when the nobles take over, all mention of magic of the wizards and the kings are outlawed. The wizards are depicted as charlatans and the kings cruel fools at the mercy of the wizards’ purportedly amazing skills of buggery. Gosh, I thought, this is like that show Oz, only this time, instead of having the men naked, we have the men clad in frou-frou fripperies and laces instead.

Basil’s studies lead him to the discovery of a book that reveals the true extent of the old magics, while Theron turns out to be some king-like dude that may rally the secret monarch-worshipping societies out there to rejuvenate the monarchy. The nobles are not amused, predictably.

But to get the gripping events that are the penultimate of this story, I have to endure through so much tedious psycho babbles from nondescript undergraduates and their teachers. If I don’t encounter another lengthy epic speech about the importance of accuracy in research in another book, it’s a blessing, I tell you. The authors attempt to mould Theron after the infamous rogues of queer lit like Oscar Wilde or what-have-yous, but I’m afraid he comes off like a pathetic third-rate Brian Kinney clone. Basil, I’m sorry to say, comes off like that pathetic Brian-worshipping guy, whatsisname, Ben? Anyway, these two characters are so self-absorbed they deserve all they get for being so obtuse to the world around them.

Maybe it’s a bit of an irony that in a world where the women are more often than not relegated to thankless roles of faghags, it is the females that stand out the most in this story. The Duchess Tremontaine, Katherine, is probably the only sane person in this story whose sphere of awareness extends past her nose. Theron’s lesbian sister Jessica and the mysterious artist Ysaud are quite interesting too, although poor Jessie is reduced to being a deus ex machina plot device. Then again, one can always rely on a woman to clean up the mess the silly boys left in the wake of their stupid games.

The Fall of the Kings is actually an expanded novella, and while I haven’t read the original novella, I suspect that the bulk of that novella must be the gripping last third of this book. The first two-thirds are fillers of the worst sort, filled with silly spoiled kids whining that their life suck even as they bugger each other (it’s a very predominantly all-boys’ school, what do you expect?), drink themselves into a stupor, and then wail that rules and laws imposed on them are abominations of the human psyche or some similar rot.

Disappointing doesn’t cover this book. After the initial spot-the-connections-with-Swordspoint thrill wears off, this book reveals itself to be not a fantasy Victorian homoerotic swashbuckling fantasy like it intended to be but a third-rate episode of Queer as Folk, only in frills and breeches and tights. Readers wanting to relive the worst of idealistic self-indulgences of youth may like this better, but I find these nondescript whiny dipsticks tedious to the extreme. They don’t need a new king, they need a mother to nag some sense and accountability into their empty skulls.

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