One of my favorite subgenres is what I'm dubbing "civilized fantasy." It's not an easy subgenre to define, but its core elements are: 1) that it's set in a post-medieval but pre-Industrial Revolution world, 2) that most of the action takes place in cities rather than the wilderness, and 3) that the plot primarily concerns itself with institutions of civilization. Examples of civilized fantasy are Paula Volsky's excellent Illusion, Martha Wells' Death of the Necromancer, Terry Pratchett's Night Watch, and Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint.

There aren't nearly enough civilized fantasy novels out there, so when I saw that Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman's The Fall of the Kings was a sequel to Swordspoint, I grabbed it and read it right quick.

And was immediately irritated, because The Fall of the Kings takes this great urban setting, these involved aristocratic politics, and squanders them all on a plot involving ancient magic (with the by-now-standard strong sexual/fertility elements), the bond between the King and the Land, and all those similarly overused themes that fill up a hundred other fantasies.

If I were the Supreme Dictator of Fantasy Publishing, my first rule would be, "Don't write a novel that explores the deep psychosexual underpinnings of ancient magic, and how it's all about this wild relationship that man has with nature. Except for you, Mr. Gaiman; you're exempted." (My second rule would be, "Don't write enormous multi-book series that don't come to a conclusion. No, Mr. Jordan, you are most definitely not exempted.")

It's not an inherently bad theme, you understand, any more than fighting the dark lord is an inherently bad plot. But, in exactly the same way, it's so painfully over-exposed that I've had enough in the last five years to last me through the next five years. I'm not novelty-crazed, but still I say, give me something new, something different.

That said, this was a really good book. Sherman and Kushner have written absorbing characters, the city itself remains a great setting, and even the theme is handled very well. If you don't have my aversion to ancient magic, you'll likely find this a superb novel.


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