My first novel, Swordspoint, was set in a city that remains nameless to this day. Despite that, I have never found it difficult to find my way there, and now have three novels and a growing collection of short stories set in that place. I invite you to join me there.
The setting is an unnamed city, the capital of an unnamed city state currently ruled by a Council of Lords which overthrew the monarchy long ago. Some readers call the city “Riverside,” but that’s just the name of the little island in the river in the middle of the city where Swordspoint‘s protagonists live. It’s inspired by all the cities I have read about, studied, and walked in, and loved the best: Elizabethan London, 18th century Paris, 1980s New York, and many others both real and fictional….
The world and its people were introduced to readers in the very first short story I ever published professionally. I was living on West 110th Street, on Manhattan’s gloriously crumbling Upper West Side. In those days it was a tough, edgy place: today’s luxury condo’s were then SRO’s for guys who howled on the street at night and girls who charged by the hour, or cramped refuges for new immigrants, or the rundown, low-rent warrens of scholars, actors and musicians. I adored it. But I wondered what it would be like to be able to walk those streets without always having to look over my shoulder to see who might be behind me.
I was reading a lot Fritz Leiber’s “Lankhmar” stories then, some Sherlock Holmes, and had just discovered the Regency of Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond books, and raunchy Blue Boy Magazine… So “Red-Cloak” featured the swordsman Richard St Vier and his acerbic companion Alec, walking unscathed through a dangerous, rundown urban district called Riverside.
But every time I tried to write another Riverside story, people told me it read like a chapter from a novel. So after many false starts and much agony, I finally managed to get a first draft of Swordspoint. I revised like crazy, and finally sold the book (first to Unwin Hyman in London, then to William Morrow in New York), and then watched the fur fly about whether or not it was really fantasy at all! (My answer, if you’re curious, was to help found the Interstitial Arts Foundation, encouraging work that defies genre expectations… but that’s another story for another time.)
I never intended to write anything else with the same characters or setting. But I changed my mind, as I explained here.
The Fall of the Kings
With my having found the way back to Riverside, there followed a few more short stories, including a novella about Alec’s posthumous son Theron which Delia Sherman and I wrote together. It was the genesis of our novel The Fall of the Kings, which takes place about 60 years after Swordspoint (see CHRONOLOGY. Delia was curious about aspects of the city and the world that Swordspoint had only touched on: Its ancient past, its University… Together, we filled in many of those blanks, and had a fabulous time doing it! (For more on our collaboration, scroll down to the author Q&A at this link: “How we got that story.”)
The Privilege of the Sword
The next novel to be published, The Privilege of the Sword, actually takes place about fifteen years after Swordspoint, long before The Fall of the Kings. I’d begun it years previously, then put it in a drawer. It took an ailing visitor from the Antipodes to get it going again…. I’ll let her tell you about it.
So I got back to work on The Privilege of the Sword, the story of Alec’s niece Katherine and her journey of self-determination, aided by her crazy uncle. It was utterly fun to write; my biggest problem was coming up with a title for it – as I explain in my essay, “The Naming of Books is a Difficult Matter”. When TPotS was published, it was nominated for a dizzying range of awards, ranging from Romance to Gender Exploration… interstitial again? Maybe.
So: Three novels published out of order, a lot of short stories to fill in the gaps between. But now, there’s ….
Set years before the action of Swordspoint, Tremontaine is a Fantasy of Manners in 13 parts, released in weekly episodes, and team written under my creative direction with authors Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malindao Lo, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, Patty Bryant and Paul Witcover.
Which book should you read first?
I wrote each one to stand alone, and I’ve found that readers get a very different experience depending on which they start with – and that’s not a bad thing! But if you’d like to follow the fortunes and adventures of everyone in their linear order, I recommend the Chronology.
The latest addition to my adventures in Riverside is the audiobooks, of all three novels, which I recorded for Neil Gaiman Presents at Audible.com. I worked closely with SueMedia Productions to create for listeners an experience as close to the “voices in my head” as an author can do.
I’m working on a new novel, set about fifteen years after The Privilege of the Sword. So any who think it’s “the Riverside Trilogy” can put that idea right out of their minds.
You’ve read the books, you’ve heard the audio versions, you know Riverside inside and out. Now get the T-shirt, by way of Litographs! (Also for sale: tote bags, scarves, blankets, pillows and posters.)