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The Fall of the Kings    by Ellen Kushner & Delia Sherman order for
Fall of the Kings
by Ellen Kushner
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2002 (2002)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Fall of the Kings is set in the world of Ellen Kushner's brilliant and popular Swordspoint - a convoluted, treacherous medieval city society, whose dregs often mix with its nobles.

Lord Theron Campion, descendant of the sister of the last king, is a spoiled child of the aristocracy, a dilettante scholar, and a foolish lover. He is haunted by strange dreams of a hunted stag. Doctor Basil St. Cloud is a brilliant young academic and a political innocent, who teaches history students about the old days when kings and their wizards reigned over a joint kingdom that united 'the rocky North and the fertile South' until the wizards were slaughtered and the last mad king killed. The two meet and become lovers. And Basil gains possession of an arcane book of wizardly spells.

Lord Arlen, Serpent Chancellor of the realm, has his eye on potential rebels, northerners who seek to restore the monarchy. He sets ambitious Lord Nicholas Galing to spy on the scholars. Basil St. Cloud, loving Theron and seeking truth, researches the past and gradually begins to believe that the wizards of old wielded true magic. Theron continues to dream and is hunted during rituals of the northern students. Then St. Cloud challenges his older orthodox rival, Dr. Crabbe to a duel of words and sources. Theron's powerful family, concerned by his state of mind, intervenes in events, and the story builds to a violent climax.

In a setting that alternates between the haunts of academe, and the elegant salons of the aristocracy, the authors give us a tale that combines academic rivalry, modern sedition, and a passionate love. It becomes clear that St. Cloud is right in his conviction of the importance of the past to a present society. I especially enjoyed the scene which reveals the bestial natures of all the characters significant to the story. But though Kushner's world is just as fascinating this time around, I found this story slower, bogging down somewhat in the middle.

Perhaps it was needed to set the scene for further episodes. Certainly The Fall of the Kings begs for a sequel, and I look forward very much to reading it.

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