The Fall of the Kings

( 2 )

Overview

This stunning follow-up to Ellen Kushner’s cult-classic novel, Swordspoint, is set in the same world of labyrinthine intrigue, where sharp swords and even sharper wits rule. Against a rich tapestry of artists and aristocrats, students, strumpets, and spies, a gentleman and a scholar will find themselves playing out an ancient drama destined to explode their society’s smug view of itself–and reveal that ...
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Fall of the Kings

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Overview

This stunning follow-up to Ellen Kushner’s cult-classic novel, Swordspoint, is set in the same world of labyrinthine intrigue, where sharp swords and even sharper wits rule. Against a rich tapestry of artists and aristocrats, students, strumpets, and spies, a gentleman and a scholar will find themselves playing out an ancient drama destined to explode their society’s smug view of itself–and reveal that sometimes the best price of uncovering history is being forced to repeat it….

The Fall of the Kings

Generations ago the last king fell, taking with him the final truths about a race of wizards who ruled at his side. But the blood of the kings runs deep in the land and its people, waiting for the coming together of two unusual men, Theron Campion, a young nobleman of royal lineage, is heir to an ancient house and a modern scandal. Tormented by his twin duties to his family and his own bright spirit, he seeks solace in the University. There he meets Basil St. Cloud, a brilliant and charismatic teacher ruled by a passion for knowledge–and a passion for the ancient kings. Of course, everyone now knows that the wizards were charlatans and the kings their dupes and puppets. Only Basil ins not convinced–nor is he convinced that the city has seen its last king…

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
One critic described Ellen Kushner's first novel, Swordspoint, as "the book we might have had if Noel Coward had written a vehicle for Errol Flynn." Such elegant swashbuckling is evident too in The Fall of the Kings, Kushner's new collaboration with former Renaissance specialist Delia Sherman. In this lush, richly woven novel, the meeting of tormented nobleman Lord Theron Campion and Basil St. Cloud, a young university scholar, promises to revive the age of wizardry in a world ill prepared to receive it.
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR THE FALL OF THE KINGS:

"Immensely appealing, intelligent, and great fun."
--Kirkus Reviews

"The authors tap into fantasy’s genuine source of drama, its ability to haunt, appall, transform."
-- Locus

"Embraces the age-old struggle between scholars and mystics...to bridge the gulf that separates history from mystery."
--Fantasy & Science Fiction

"One of the bawdiest and most intellectually stimulating novels of the year!"
--BookPage

"Richly textured...authentic...A fantasy novel that won't insult your intelligence."
--Science Fiction Chronicle

"Gorgeous prose and a galloping story, with...a deep understanding of a true scholar's passion for his subject."
--Mary Doria Russell, author of The Sparrow

"Stunning...If Oscar Wilde were writing high fantasy, he'd want to write The Fall of the Kings."
--Sarah Smith, author of A Citizen of the Country

"Attractive characters, realistically enmeshed in social, political, and personal concerns... realized with a robust depth and realism."
--Suzy McKee Charnas, author of My Father's Ghost

"Kushner and Sherman don't spin fables or knit fancies: they are world-forgers, working in a language of iron and air."
--Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Lost

"The Fall of the Kings is, if possible, even better [than Swordspoint]--twistier and deeper."
--Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods

"Splendid....one of my favorite books this year!"
--Charles de Lint, author of The Onion Girl

"This is how fantasy should be written!...sweeps you in and lets you live the story with the characters."
--Lynn Flewelling, author of The Bone Doll's Twin

"A delicious read . . . dark, sexy, and wickedly funny by turns. I loved it. You'll love it too."
--Terri Windling, editor of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror

"Ellen Kushner writes like an angel...pellucid, poetically structured prose [and] a gathering sense of tragic reality."
--Algis Budrys

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Library Journal
Generations have passed since the nobles rose to power, killing the last king and burning the wizards who served as the king's advisers. When Basil St. Cloud, a professor of ancient history, meets Theron Campion, a young and eccentric nobleman, their passionate relationship brings to light forbidden knowledge about the true history of the last king and the nature of the bond between the king and the land. Set in the same world as Kushner's Swordspoint, this dynamic tale of the twin powers of love and scholarship offers a glimpse into the connection between learning and politics while portraying the lives of individuals poised on the border of myth and reality. Kushner and coauthor Sherman (Through a Brazen Mirror) craft a sensual and evocative tale that should appeal to fans of Tanith Lee and Storm Constantine. Highly recommended for readers of mature fantasy. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A return to the marvelously complicated world of witty court intrigue and deadly University scandal last seen in Swordspoint (Tor, 1994). Theron Campion, an aristocratic student, is drawn into a controversy about the nature of the ancient kings and the northern wizards. Basil St. Cloud is at the center of this dispute and as his relationship with Campion deepens, he finds that his historical findings have modern, highly political implications. As all scholars know, the kings were corrupt and their wizards were simply charlatans, but St. Cloud has discovered an ancient source that promises something altogether different. However, the Council of Lords becomes aware that the northern-most parts of the country are murmuring for a return to monarchy and, suspecting the University as a source for the discontent, they send a spy to ferret out information. St. Cloud and his students become the focal point for an explosive denouement that is as tragic as it is inevitable. Kings stands on its own in all its intricate, fascinating glory. The characters are fully realized, and some of the secondary ones, like Campion's mother, are so well done that they threaten to steal scenes. Kushner and Sherman inject plenty of humor and bawdiness into their tale, providing grounding for some of the abstruse historical debates. This is high fantasy at its best-literate, passionate, and compelling.-Jody Sharp, Harford County Public Library, MD Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Sequel to 1987's Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners, a tale set in an imaginary city that Kushner herself described as "not-quite-equal parts of Elizabethan London, 18th-century Paris, a dash of Regency of both, and even a little New York . . . . " Here, it's 60 years later, in a Renaissance Europe that's not quite the historical Europe. Much earlier, the rocky North and fertile South were joined into one country with a King and Queen. Ivy grew out of the hands of some of the Northern King's 15 wizards when he rode south for the wedding, leading his monstrously uncouth army. Very fanciful stuff, thinks University historian Basil St. Cloud three hundred years later, now that all the kings are long dead and the land kingless. St. Cloud admires kings but the Serpent Chancellor, Lord Arlen, appoints Lord Nicholas Galling to spy on University Northerners who favor installing a new king, drawn from royal blood, over the Council of Lords. The Council has also outlawed all talk of wizards and magic-since magic. . . doesn't exist? If anyone could find the lost Book of the King's Wizards, the spells in it might prove upsetting to the Council. When Basil is bedded by his new student Theron Campion, grandson of the scandalous Mad Duke Tremontaine, he finds tattooed ivy leaves entwining Theron's body, a sign that he's the son of ancient kings. Not that Theron doesn't love the bossy painter Ysaud, who has painted a canvas of him modeling both throat-slit Hilary the Stag and his naked murderer-scandalous Hilary slept with deer in his bedroom instead of his wife. Then Basil buys an old trunk holding old manuscripts, including guess what, and Theron, a student of rhetoric, helps read it. Will wizardryreturn? Theron be king? Are the Serpent Chancellor and Galling closet sweeties? Immensely appealing, intelligent, and great fun.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553585940
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/30/2003
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 526,821
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 1.38 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Five hundred years ago and more, a king rode out of the North at the head of an army. He rode with a company of splendid men, all armed to the teeth. They rode not to war, but to a wedding. After centuries of conflict, the rocky North and the fertile South were at last to be joined into one kingdom in the persons of their King and Queen and their heirs perpetual, united against their common enemies and increasing in mutual prosperity.

The Southern Queen's Chronicler, Valerian Hollis, had described the King's army in horrified detail. Their armor was leather and hammered bronze. Under their helms, their long hair was braided with leather and bones and beads and even nuggets of gold. Every one of them was blood kin to his king, and as they came through the streets of the capital city, they sang.

In the eyes of the Southern nobles, the King's Companions were strange enough, with their barbaric mien and their uncouth songs of war and the hunt. But they brought with them men that they called wizards, and the wizards were worse.

The wizards did not sing. Indeed, they barely spoke, except to one another. There were (according to Hollis) fifteen of them, riding horseback just behind the king. The King's Wizards were robed in black or brown, russet or ochre: peasants' colors, colors of the land. Some were cloaked in the skins of animals. Their faces were bearded, their hair unbound and crowned with leaves. From the hands of certain of them, tendrils of ivy grew.

Thus Hollis in the final chapter of his Chronicle History of the Northern Kings, a work written at the behest of Queen Diane and her new consort, Alcuin, later called the Diplomat. It was a book every historian should own; Basil St Cloud had bought his when he was still a student, and lived on bread and cheese for the rest of the month to pay for the used, leather-bound volume. Now he was a Doctor of History, and the margins of its pages were lined with notes, the leather cover buttery with handling. But it had failed to enlighten him on the subject he was currently researching.

With a sigh, he set the volume aside. If only Hollis had not insisted on cluttering up his account with so much about the wonder of these so-called wizards. Wizards, indeed! The very word evoked nameless rituals and dark mysteries, when everyone knew that their "magic" had been nothing more than sleight-of-hand coupled with diplomacy. But they certainly had made an impressive show. As many times as Basil had read the description, it still gave him a chill: ". . . their hair so twined about with leaves of Ivie and of Oak, as to make them seem in themselves to be Trees and Creatures of the Wood come riding into our Citie to take it through the Greening of the verrie Stones. . . ."

Basil shook his head. Very pretty. Very fanciful. Charged with collecting facts from his new compatriots, but unable to understand most of what they said, Hollis had simply conflated history and legend. Still, the book was pretty much all modern scholars had to go by. The pre-Union North was known for the strength of its warriors, not its record-keeping. And Hollis really had witnessed the events of the Union. Now, if only he'd been more interested in laws of inheritance than in trees on horseback. . . .

A knock on his door interrupted his fulminations. "St Cloud!" He recognized the voice of his friend Thomas Elton, Doctor of Astronomy. "St Cloud, I know you're in there, now open up!"

Without regret, the historian opened the door to his rooms. "How now, my fair one!" It was an old joke. Elton had the face and figure of a bull-dog, but his hair, which he wore long by University tradition, was an incongruously beautiful honey-colored mane that his friends loved to tease him about. "Have you come all this way to invite me to dinner, or do you just want to stick your ridiculous astral spyglass out my window again?"

Elton grinned. "I'll accept your kind offer, if it ever clears up. You live so much closer to the heavens than the rest of us, and I want to get another good look at that comet. Stars with fiery hair, they don't come around that often. And this one's such a beauty, Basil."

"Yes, you've said. But that's not what you're here for."

"Right. If I thought you had any wine to offer me I'd make you produce it--but instead, I come to tell you that there's been a sighting of Leonard Rugg in the fiery precincts of the Blackbird's Nest, ordering the ingredients for a brandy-punch!"

Basil said archly, "I don't suppose it was Cassius who spotted him?"

"And is saving us a couple of seats."

"Blessed Cassius." Basil finally found his cap and jammed it on his head. "A mathematician can always be relied upon to count the right number of guests. Onward, let us onward, like the invading Ophidian army on the Plains of Garrawan. Look out for the broken step."

The streets of the University were the streets of the city, and some of the oldest. They lay on the east bank of the river, where, it was said, King Alcuin's wizards had first taken up residence after the Union. Certainly the streets were close and twisty and notoriously difficult to navigate, particularly late at night. The school had been tiny at first, not much more than a few classrooms nestled in a warren of government edifices. But time and history had wrought their changes. Buildings that once had been halls of state were now lecture halls, and the dens of civil servants and kings' companions had been turned to students' quarters, rented out to as many aspiring young scholars as could fit in a room. The taverns that dotted every corner were probably the oldest structures that retained their purpose. Across the troubled maelstrom of time, people always need a beer.

The tavern known as the Blackbird's Nest was awash in the dark-robed scholars who gave it its name. Its ceiling was low and black-beamed, its ancient walls as deep as a man's arm from hand to elbow, its windows sunk in alcoves. The feet of untold generations of drinkers and debaters had worn troughs into the stone of its floor; their shoulders had polished the stone walls black and smooth. Basil had been coming there since he was a young student, fresh off the farm--not as many years ago as he liked to think. He'd met Elton and Cassius there, accomplished scholars of two years' standing. They had advised him on University ways, from simple matters like letting your hair grow long to avoid looking like a country bumpkin and always giving way to a magister on the street to the intricacies of getting credit in a tavern and the maximum number of lectures he might attend without paying the magister a fee. And they'd invited him along with them to meet the brilliant young Doctor of Metaphysics, Leonard Rugg, known for his generosity with the punchbowl and his stimulating debates on everything from women to the meaning of the stars.

For all four men, the meeting had been a momentous one. The three young scholars had found a shrewd mentor; Rugg had found three kindred spirits. He was not surprised when each of them had resisted the world's call for educated men to stock its law courts and schoolrooms, its nobles' secretarial staffs and charitable institutions. Elton, Cassius, and finally St Cloud remained at University, become Fellows and then Doctors of their chosen subjects, and had been licensed to lecture by the Governors. The four of them had become a familiar sight: Basil St Cloud of History, sturdy and pale, with perennially stubbled cheeks and black, unruly hair; Thomas Elton of Astronomy, stocky and cheerful; Lucas Cassius of Mathematics, lean and saturnine; and Leonard Rugg of Metaphysics, not nearly as old as he pretended to be, his skin pink, his forehead high, his thinning reddish hair standing out from his scalp like new-shorn fleece.

"Time marches on," Rugg was saying testily to Cassius, "but the boy with the brandy is slower than a tart with a noble client. And didn't you say young St Cloud and Elton were coming?"

"On their way," the mathematician answered. "Remember, patience is the virtue of the truly wise."

Rugg snorted. "Nonsense. Patience gets you nothing but a cold bed. Who's been filling your head with platitudes, eh? Your old mother?"

"Placid," Cassius said smugly, "in his Of Manners and Morals. I remember you lecturing on it, Leonard. You were, of course, much more eloquent at the time."

"Don't you quote Placid to me, you damned cabbage-counter. Always thought Placid was a damned fool," Rugg said, "when he wasn't being a genius. Ah, here's the brandy!"

Easing a laden tray onto the table, the potboy unloaded two steaming jugs, four heavy pottery mugs, and several little dishes containing sugar and spices. Rugg pushed back his bench, stood ponderously, cracked his knuckles and began to assemble the punch. A savor of cinnamon and cloves rose above the table in an alcoholic cloud.

"Is that brandy-punch I smell?" Elton said brightly, looming over them.

"It will be," Rugg answered, "if you don't jog my arm. Sit down, Elton--no, over there, with St Cloud. Basil, dear boy, where have you been hiding?"

"Nowhere I can't be found," Basil answered mildly, "as Elton has just happily proved."

Cassius sighed with an exaggerated melancholy, and laced his skinny fingers in his lanky hair. "Would that all proofs were so easily made! Basil, I hear you're writing another book, and good for you. In fact," he caught Elton's eye across the table, "very good for you, indeed."

"Which means what, exactly?"

Basil's question went unanswered as Rugg lifted the ladle high and made a brief speech about friendship and taverns and wine. Rugg favored the rhetorical style of the Gerardine metaphysicians, his current academic preoccupation. Basil cupped his hands around his steaming mug. Autumn was coming on chill this year.

The four friends toasted each other and the beginning of the Harvest Term, wishing each other plenty of paying students for all and a new, more faithful mistress for Rugg. They ordered up a dinner of roast chicken, greens, and buttered squash, and tucked into it as if they'd not eaten for days.

"The Horn Chair lecture's back on, had you heard?" Elton asked through a mouthful of chicken.

"Impossible," said Rugg. "The Horn Professor's at death's door. Has been since Midsummer."

Cassius sipped his punch. "It's not like you to be so far behind the gossip, Rugg. Doctor Tortua was at death's door, but he's better now. Not enough better, I'd have thought, to go about giving public lectures, but I'm no physician. You were Tortua's man, St Cloud. What do you know about it?"

St Cloud shrugged. "Not much. We haven't been friendly since my monograph on the Treaty of Arkenvelt."

"I remember," said Rugg. "You took his chapter in The Fall of the Kings and made mincemeat of it, didn't you, against all advice and common sense."

"But he got it wrong, and all because he didn't go back to the treaty itself and relied instead on Delgardie's report in A Mirror of History, which was already second-hand at best. As I said at the time." He glared at Rugg, who looked ready to argue the whole point again. "It's done, Rugg, and can't be undone. Doctor Crabbe's his heir apparent now, and much joy may he have of him."

"You're hopeless, Basil." Elton looked over his shoulder into the Blackbird's noisy, candlelit room. "Doesn't Roger Crabbe drink here too?"

"I haven't seen him," St Cloud said. "Not since Spring Term, not here."

"Well, his friends, then. You don't need to like Crabbe, but there's nothing to be gained by making an enemy of him."

"And what would his friends tell him?" St Cloud demanded. "He already knows I don't like him; I've told him as much to his face. And he's welcome to hear that I'm sorry I quarreled with Doctor Tortua--well, not sorry, exactly, since I'd do the same again. But sad. I'd like to make it up with him."

The eminent doctor had recognized in the young St Cloud a love of ancient things that matched his own. In Basil's second year, he'd wooed him away from the law he'd come to the city to study and shepherded him up through University ranks. It was Tortua's influence, as well as his own industry, that had made Basil the youngest man ever to achieve the rank of Doctor. He had loved the old man like a father, and had been proportionately wounded when Tortua had taken Basil's monograph on the Treaty of Arkenvelt as a personal attack rather than a simple scholarly correction.

"Make it up with him!" scoffed Elton. "I doubt Tortua would even see you, especially as Crabbe's his doorkeeper these days, they say."

"I thought Crabbe was avoiding me," St Cloud said.

"You flatter yourself," said Cassius. "He was nursing Tortua."

"Lobbying to be the next Horn Chair of Ancient History, if you ask me," Elton said, and Rugg nodded.

"That's disgusting," exclaimed St Cloud. "Not even Crabbe would do a thing like that."

His three companions exchanged the superior smiles of men who, knowing a friend's weakness, love him in spite of it.

"So," said Rugg after a pause, "are you still going to the lecture?"

St Cloud, with little else to stand on, stood on his dignity. "Of course I'm going. I'm in ancient history. I'd go whoever was giving the lecture, even if it were Crabbe himself."

"We'll see you there, then," said Elton cheerfully.

"Yes," said Cassius. "Sit with us. You can tell us when he's getting it wrong."

"You'll just have to figure it out for yourselves," Basil St Cloud told them. "I shall be sitting with my students."

Chapter 2

The kings ruled the united kingdom for better than three hundred years before they were deposed by the nobles, who established rule by the Council of Lords. The later kings had been a byword for decadence and corruption, with special emphasis on assassination, rape, and excessive taxation. Of their special councilors, the wizards, the less said the better; progress and the Council of Lords swept even their memory aside. The country prospered. Technology advanced. Carriages were invented, and the nobles left their townhouses in the Riverside district behind, seduced by the broad avenues and terraced banks of the Hill that lay across the riverbank northwest of the Old City. There they built magnificent houses set in exquisite gardens sweeping down to the river.

The lords of the city did have a tendency to quarrel amongst themselves, though, especially in the Council's early days. There were high walls around their gardens and guards at the gates. But even these were not enough to protect a man from the fury of his peers and their relations when blood feuds heated up. To keep the important people from killing each other off, a class of professional swordsmen evolved to take on the nobles' challenges, and elaborate rules were constructed to keep them within the bounds of law. Some of the houses still boasted the traditional liveried swordsman, but not all. Times had changed, as times will. Like the swordsmen, the walls around the Hill's great houses were chiefly decorative. But not all. The gates of Arlen House, in particular, were not easily breached. Behind them lived and worked the Serpent Chancellor of the Council of Lords, Geoffrey, Lord Arlen. Like the serpent, he was cunning and elusive and well-defended. No one entered Arlen House except by invitation. And even then, the Serpent Chancellor was not so easily seen.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Chapter 1

Five hundred years ago and more, a king rode out of the North at the head of an army. He rode with a company of splendid men, all armed to the teeth. They rode not to war, but to a wedding. After centuries of conflict, the rocky North and the fertile South were at last to be joined into one kingdom in the persons of their King and Queen and their heirs perpetual, united against their common enemies and increasing in mutual prosperity.

The Southern Queen's Chronicler, Valerian Hollis, had described the King's army in horrified detail. Their armor was leather and hammered bronze. Under their helms, their long hair was braided with leather and bones and beads and even nuggets of gold. Every one of them was blood kin to his king, and as they came through the streets of the capital city, they sang.

In the eyes of the Southern nobles, the King's Companions were strange enough, with their barbaric mien and their uncouth songs of war and the hunt. But they brought with them men that they called wizards, and the wizards were worse.

The wizards did not sing. Indeed, they barely spoke, except to one another. There were (according to Hollis) fifteen of them, riding horseback just behind the king. The King's Wizards were robed in black or brown, russet or ochre: peasants' colors, colors of the land. Some were cloaked in the skins of animals. Their faces were bearded, their hair unbound and crowned with leaves. From the hands of certain of them, tendrils of ivy grew.

Thus Hollis in the final chapter of his Chronicle History of the Northern Kings, a work written at the behest of Queen Diane and her new consort, Alcuin, later called the Diplomat. Itwas a book every historian should own; Basil St Cloud had bought his when he was still a student, and lived on bread and cheese for the rest of the month to pay for the used, leather-bound volume. Now he was a Doctor of History, and the margins of its pages were lined with notes, the leather cover buttery with handling. But it had failed to enlighten him on the subject he was currently researching.

With a sigh, he set the volume aside. If only Hollis had not insisted on cluttering up his account with so much about the wonder of these so-called wizards. Wizards, indeed! The very word evoked nameless rituals and dark mysteries, when everyone knew that their "magic" had been nothing more than sleight-of-hand coupled with diplomacy. But they certainly had made an impressive show. As many times as Basil had read the description, it still gave him a chill: ". . . their hair so twined about with leaves of Ivie and of Oak, as to make them seem in themselves to be Trees and Creatures of the Wood come riding into our Citie to take it through the Greening of the verrie Stones. . . ."

Basil shook his head. Very pretty. Very fanciful. Charged with collecting facts from his new compatriots, but unable to understand most of what they said, Hollis had simply conflated history and legend. Still, the book was pretty much all modern scholars had to go by. The pre-Union North was known for the strength of its warriors, not its record-keeping. And Hollis really had witnessed the events of the Union. Now, if only he'd been more interested in laws of inheritance than in trees on horseback. . . .

A knock on his door interrupted his fulminations. "St Cloud!" He recognized the voice of his friend Thomas Elton, Doctor of Astronomy. "St Cloud, I know you're in there, now open up!"

Without regret, the historian opened the door to his rooms. "How now, my fair one!" It was an old joke. Elton had the face and figure of a bull-dog, but his hair, which he wore long by University tradition, was an incongruously beautiful honey-colored mane that his friends loved to tease him about. "Have you come all this way to invite me to dinner, or do you just want to stick your ridiculous astral spyglass out my window again?"

Elton grinned. "I'll accept your kind offer, if it ever clears up. You live so much closer to the heavens than the rest of us, and I want to get another good look at that comet. Stars with fiery hair, they don't come around that often. And this one's such a beauty, Basil."

"Yes, you've said. But that's not what you're here for."

"Right. If I thought you had any wine to offer me I'd make you produce it--but instead, I come to tell you that there's been a sighting of Leonard Rugg in the fiery precincts of the Blackbird's Nest, ordering the ingredients for a brandy-punch!"

Basil said archly, "I don't suppose it was Cassius who spotted him?"

"And is saving us a couple of seats."

"Blessed Cassius." Basil finally found his cap and jammed it on his head. "A mathematician can always be relied upon to count the right number of guests. Onward, let us onward, like the invading Ophidian army on the Plains of Garrawan. Look out for the broken step."

The streets of the University were the streets of the city, and some of the oldest. They lay on the east bank of the river, where, it was said, King Alcuin's wizards had first taken up residence after the Union. Certainly the streets were close and twisty and notoriously difficult to navigate, particularly late at night. The school had been tiny at first, not much more than a few classrooms nestled in a warren of government edifices. But time and history had wrought their changes. Buildings that once had been halls of state were now lecture halls, and the dens of civil servants and kings' companions had been turned to students' quarters, rented out to as many aspiring young scholars as could fit in a room. The taverns that dotted every corner were probably the oldest structures that retained their purpose. Across the troubled maelstrom of time, people always need a beer.

The tavern known as the Blackbird's Nest was awash in the dark-robed scholars who gave it its name. Its ceiling was low and black-beamed, its ancient walls as deep as a man's arm from hand to elbow, its windows sunk in alcoves. The feet of untold generations of drinkers and debaters had worn troughs into the stone of its floor; their shoulders had polished the stone walls black and smooth. Basil had been coming there since he was a young student, fresh off the farm--not as many years ago as he liked to think. He'd met Elton and Cassius there, accomplished scholars of two years' standing. They had advised him on University ways, from simple matters like letting your hair grow long to avoid looking like a country bumpkin and always giving way to a magister on the street to the intricacies of getting credit in a tavern and the maximum number of lectures he might attend without paying the magister a fee. And they'd invited him along with them to meet the brilliant young Doctor of Metaphysics, Leonard Rugg, known for his generosity with the punchbowl and his stimulating debates on everything from women to the meaning of the stars.

For all four men, the meeting had been a momentous one. The three young scholars had found a shrewd mentor; Rugg had found three kindred spirits. He was not surprised when each of them had resisted the world's call for educated men to stock its law courts and schoolrooms, its nobles' secretarial staffs and charitable institutions. Elton, Cassius, and finally St Cloud remained at University, become Fellows and then Doctors of their chosen subjects, and had been licensed to lecture by the Governors. The four of them had become a familiar sight: Basil St Cloud of History, sturdy and pale, with perennially stubbled cheeks and black, unruly hair; Thomas Elton of Astronomy, stocky and cheerful; Lucas Cassius of Mathematics, lean and saturnine; and Leonard Rugg of Metaphysics, not nearly as old as he pretended to be, his skin pink, his forehead high, his thinning reddish hair standing out from his scalp like new-shorn fleece.

"Time marches on," Rugg was saying testily to Cassius, "but the boy with the brandy is slower than a tart with a noble client. And didn't you say young St Cloud and Elton were coming?"

"On their way," the mathematician answered. "Remember, patience is the virtue of the truly wise."

Rugg snorted. "Nonsense. Patience gets you nothing but a cold bed. Who's been filling your head with platitudes, eh? Your old mother?"

"Placid," Cassius said smugly, "in his Of Manners and Morals. I remember you lecturing on it, Leonard. You were, of course, much more eloquent at the time."

"Don't you quote Placid to me, you damned cabbage-counter. Always thought Placid was a damned fool," Rugg said, "when he wasn't being a genius. Ah, here's the brandy!"

Easing a laden tray onto the table, the potboy unloaded two steaming jugs, four heavy pottery mugs, and several little dishes containing sugar and spices. Rugg pushed back his bench, stood ponderously, cracked his knuckles and began to assemble the punch. A savor of cinnamon and cloves rose above the table in an alcoholic cloud.

"Is that brandy-punch I smell?" Elton said brightly, looming over them.

"It will be," Rugg answered, "if you don't jog my arm. Sit down, Elton--no, over there, with St Cloud. Basil, dear boy, where have you been hiding?"

"Nowhere I can't be found," Basil answered mildly, "as Elton has just happily proved."

Cassius sighed with an exaggerated melancholy, and laced his skinny fingers in his lanky hair. "Would that all proofs were so easily made! Basil, I hear you're writing another book, and good for you. In fact," he caught Elton's eye across the table, "very good for you, indeed."

"Which means what, exactly?"

Basil's question went unanswered as Rugg lifted the ladle high and made a brief speech about friendship and taverns and wine. Rugg favored the rhetorical style of the Gerardine metaphysicians, his current academic preoccupation. Basil cupped his hands around his steaming mug. Autumn was coming on chill this year.

The four friends toasted each other and the beginning of the Harvest Term, wishing each other plenty of paying students for all and a new, more faithful mistress for Rugg. They ordered up a dinner of roast chicken, greens, and buttered squash, and tucked into it as if they'd not eaten for days.

"The Horn Chair lecture's back on, had you heard?" Elton asked through a mouthful of chicken.

"Impossible," said Rugg. "The Horn Professor's at death's door. Has been since Midsummer."

Cassius sipped his punch. "It's not like you to be so far behind the gossip, Rugg. Doctor Tortua was at death's door, but he's better now. Not enough better, I'd have thought, to go about giving public lectures, but I'm no physician. You were Tortua's man, St Cloud. What do you know about it?"

St Cloud shrugged. "Not much. We haven't been friendly since my monograph on the Treaty of Arkenvelt."

"I remember," said Rugg. "You took his chapter in The Fall of the Kings and made mincemeat of it, didn't you, against all advice and common sense."

"But he got it wrong, and all because he didn't go back to the treaty itself and relied instead on Delgardie's report in A Mirror of History, which was already second-hand at best. As I said at the time." He glared at Rugg, who looked ready to argue the whole point again. "It's done, Rugg, and can't be undone. Doctor Crabbe's his heir apparent now, and much joy may he have of him."

"You're hopeless, Basil." Elton looked over his shoulder into the Blackbird's noisy, candlelit room. "Doesn't Roger Crabbe drink here too?"

"I haven't seen him," St Cloud said. "Not since Spring Term, not here."

"Well, his friends, then. You don't need to like Crabbe, but there's nothing to be gained by making an enemy of him."

"And what would his friends tell him?" St Cloud demanded. "He already knows I don't like him; I've told him as much to his face. And he's welcome to hear that I'm sorry I quarreled with Doctor Tortua--well, not sorry, exactly, since I'd do the same again. But sad. I'd like to make it up with him."

The eminent doctor had recognized in the young St Cloud a love of ancient things that matched his own. In Basil's second year, he'd wooed him away from the law he'd come to the city to study and shepherded him up through University ranks. It was Tortua's influence, as well as his own industry, that had made Basil the youngest man ever to achieve the rank of Doctor. He had loved the old man like a father, and had been proportionately wounded when Tortua had taken Basil's monograph on the Treaty of Arkenvelt as a personal attack rather than a simple scholarly correction.

"Make it up with him!" scoffed Elton. "I doubt Tortua would even see you, especially as Crabbe's his doorkeeper these days, they say."

"I thought Crabbe was avoiding me," St Cloud said.

"You flatter yourself," said Cassius. "He was nursing Tortua."

"Lobbying to be the next Horn Chair of Ancient History, if you ask me," Elton said, and Rugg nodded.

"That's disgusting," exclaimed St Cloud. "Not even Crabbe would do a thing like that."

His three companions exchanged the superior smiles of men who, knowing a friend's weakness, love him in spite of it.

"So," said Rugg after a pause, "are you still going to the lecture?"

St Cloud, with little else to stand on, stood on his dignity. "Of course I'm going. I'm in ancient history. I'd go whoever was giving the lecture, even if it were Crabbe himself."

"We'll see you there, then," said Elton cheerfully.

"Yes," said Cassius. "Sit with us. You can tell us when he's getting it wrong."

"You'll just have to figure it out for yourselves," Basil St Cloud told them. "I shall be sitting with my students."

Chapter 2

The kings ruled the united kingdom for better than three hundred years before they were deposed by the nobles, who established rule by the Council of Lords. The later kings had been a byword for decadence and corruption, with special emphasis on assassination, rape, and excessive taxation. Of their special councilors, the wizards, the less said the better; progress and the Council of Lords swept even their memory aside. The country prospered. Technology advanced. Carriages were invented, and the nobles left their townhouses in the Riverside district behind, seduced by the broad avenues and terraced banks of the Hill that lay across the riverbank northwest of the Old City. There they built magnificent houses set in exquisite gardens sweeping down to the river.

The lords of the city did have a tendency to quarrel amongst themselves, though, especially in the Council's early days. There were high walls around their gardens and guards at the gates. But even these were not enough to protect a man from the fury of his peers and their relations when blood feuds heated up. To keep the important people from killing each other off, a class of professional swordsmen evolved to take on the nobles' challenges, and elaborate rules were constructed to keep them within the bounds of law. Some of the houses still boasted the traditional liveried swordsman, but not all. Times had changed, as times will. Like the swordsmen, the walls around the Hill's great houses were chiefly decorative. But not all. The gates of Arlen House, in particular, were not easily breached. Behind them lived and worked the Serpent Chancellor of the Council of Lords, Geoffrey, Lord Arlen. Like the serpent, he was cunning and elusive and well-defended. No one entered Arlen House except by invitation. And even then, the Serpent Chancellor was not so easily seen.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Interviews & Essays

An Open Letter from Ellen Kushner
Dear Bantam Spectra Readers,
What’s it like to return to a world you once lived in?
The Fall of the Kings is set some 60 years after my first novel, Swordspoint -- which I began writing what seems nearly as long ago! In that time, I’ve gone from just-another-kid-with-an-unpublished-novel, to winning a World Fantasy Award for my second novel (Thomas the Rhymer), to acquiring a whole second career as a host on public radio. My national weekly series, Sound & Spirit </pri/spirit>, just wasn’t leaving me enough time to write the ficition I love. So I turned to my companion, Delia Sherman (author of Through a Brazen Mirror and The Porcelain Dove), to help me out--or maybe she just got sick of my whining that there was no time, no time, my radio career is booming but my writing career is heading down the tubes, oh no, oh no!
Anyway: we began to play, “What if?” together. What if the characters from Swordspoint had kids? What would they be like? How would the city change? And what parts of the city were yet to be explored?
As a “recovering academic” with a degree in Renaissance Studies, Delia was awfully curious to know what the city’s University was like (you may remember that the mysterious Alec, in Swordspoint, has left there in disgrace, vowing never to return). I said, “OK, you write about that part.” So she chose the historian Basil St. Cloud to be her guide to the University, and along the way he picked up a loyal band of students who, to me, are themselves one of the most compelling “characters”in the book. I went back to my beloved Riverside District, and the troubled young nobleman Theron Campion, who uneasily divides his time between Riverside (still a dive, but slightly gentrified in the past 60 years), the Hill (where the nobles live) and University. And as a writer of historical fiction (and a wicked fierce researcher), Delia really wanted to know more about the background of the country: what was there in its past that gave rise to the rather louche society of Swordspoint? So, together we began to explore its history, and even its murky pre-history and legend….
How did we make up the plot?
Women always laugh when I explain, “It was like playing ‘Barbies’.” Or maybe, imagine Tom & Huck down by the river being pirate kings…. We just made stuff up, with each of us directing our own characters. We’d talk things through, and then we’d write them down. (We are, after all, both professional writers!)
Did we have fights?
Oh, yeah--but not about what you think. Except for the question “Should someone die at the end? And if so, who?” we were pretty much in accord about all the plot twists and turns. The bitterest fights were over the use of punctuation: “I can’t be-lieeeeeeve you want to put a comma there!” “You think that’s where that paragraph breaks? Whaddaya, nuts?!”
The absolutely worst fight of all, though, was over the naming of the city--or “the City,” as its denizens tend to refer to it. Delia said the place had to have a name, finally, because it was driving her crazy. I tried. Really, I tried. But nothing felt right. And in the end, I invoked the “New York Rule”: If you’ve ever lived near or in Manhattan, you know that nobody calls it that. New Jerseyites, for instance, don’t say, “I’m going to New York this weekend to see a show;” it’s: “I’m going to the City.” Or: “Do you live in the City?” or “We’re thinking of moving to the City...”
See?
It is a pretty long book, and I wish I could tell you who wrote what. But true collaboration is a funny thing: as Neil Gaiman recently told an interviewer (re. his work with Terry Pratchett on Good Omens), “I wrote 90% of the book. The only problem was, [s]he wrote the other 90%.”
To be honest, Delia must have written at least 75% of the first draft. But then I rewrote her stuff, and she rewrote my stuff, and we added and subtracted . . .it took more than 3 years to write this book, and it is honestly true that at this point there are entire paragraphs where neither of us can figure out who wrote what you see on the page.
It has been a real joy to return to all the districts of this City with such a boon companion.
Ellen Kushner
P.S. If the story of the new novel sounds strangely familiar to you, it may be that you read the novella Delia & I published in 1997, also called “The Fall of the Kings.” I recently found an e-mail I wrote someone at the time, talking about how hard it was to cut the thing down to story-length, and how both of us feared that it was just going to have to be turned into a novel…
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Loved It-Read It Twice

    I loved this book, just as much if not more than the first time I read it. Excited to find there are other novels by Ellen Kushner set in the world of Riverside, I was disappointed in 'Swordspoint'. Each book has its own feel to it, and I fell hard and fully in love with 'The Fall of the Kings'. It is deeply entangled with dirty politics, secrets of all sorts, a struggle to maintain power among the nobility, a history founded and taught on speculation and opinion, magic forbidden and learned, conspiracies within families, no bars hold sex that's used for pleasure, barter, and even blackmail, and many more brilliant qualities that I am failing to mention and give adequate words to describe. The main characters Basil St Cloud, a doctor at the University, and Theron Campion, expected heir to Duchess Tremontaine, are the ones who are at the center of the city's social wilderness. Theron will learn that ignorance is not always innocence, along with heartbreak, and perhaps never learning how to have a happy relationship with anyone. St Cloud's journey brings the court wizards, their king, and magic into reality. It is treason to teach that the wizards did work magic, for real. Lord Arlen sets Galing to place spies within the University to gather enough information to prove that the Northerners are trying to bring back their king. If so, who have they chosen, one of them or one of the Companions of the King? With so much drama and romance, only the destruction of a person/idea will be their/its salvation, as 'The Fall of the Kings' reaches its beautiful, exciting, and climatic conclusion.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Loved It-Read It Twice

    I loved this book, just as much if not more than the first time I read it. Excited to find there are other novels by Ellen Kushner set in the world of Riverside, I was disappointed in 'Swordspoint'. Each book has its own feel to it, and I fell hard and fully in love with 'The Fall of the Kings'. It is deeply entangled with dirty politics, secrets of all sorts, a struggle to maintain power among the nobility, a history founded and taught on speculation and opinion, magic forbidden and learned, conspiracies within families, no bars hold sex that's used for pleasure, barter, and even blackmail, and many more brilliant qualities that I am failing to mention and give adequate words to describe. The main characters Basil St Cloud, a doctor at the University, and Theron Campion, expected heir to Duchess Tremontaine, are the ones who are at the center of the city's social wilderness. Theron will learn that ignorance is not always innocence, along with heartbreak, and perhaps never learning how to have a happy relationship with anyone. St Cloud's journey brings the court wizards, their king, and magic into reality. It is treason to teach that the wizards did work magic, for real. Lord Arlen sets Galing to place spies within the University to gather enough information to prove that the Northerners are trying to bring back their king. If so, who have they chosen, one of them or one of the Companions of the King? With so much drama and romance, only the destruction of a person/idea will be their/its salvation, as 'The Fall of the Kings' reaches its beautiful, exciting, and climatic conclusion.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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