October 15, 2020 7:54 AM EDT

Though there are many duels fought with swords in the world of Riverside, the clashes simply spoken out loud are what define Ellen Kushner’s cult-favorite novel. Swordspoint, a defining work in the fantasy of manners sub-genre, is centered around characters, their witty banter and the quieter dilemmas they face surrounding politics and class. The novel follows the journey of Richard St. Vier, a swordsman who makes his living by killing nobles in a world unlike our own. We’re aware that the land he traverses is fantastical, but those elements are played down in favor of a small-scale story centered on Richard’s tormented love for a scholar named Alec. There’s no kingdom to save or world to protect, but instead a romance to root for written in thrilling and precise terms. —Annabel Gutterman

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