Book Review: The Fall of the Kings, by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman

Book cover for The Fall of the Kings by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman
The Fall of the Kings by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman

I first learned of Ellen Kushner’s work through her radio show “Sound and Spirit,” on WBGH. Grounded in the songs and stories of cultures throughout the world, her show explored the spiritual and religious traditions and themes that transcend divides of politics and dogma. This understanding of how ancient stories and archetypes echo through the ages blossoms forth in The Fall of The Kings. It’s one of the Swordspoint books, which take place in an unspecified country that bears some resemblance to 18th-century Venice or London.

Earlier books focused on political intrigue and traditions around sword-fighting, and evoked a time in which same-sex love was part and parcel of the fabric of society. As a bisexual woman, I find it refreshing to read about a world in which people were free to take male and female lovers without scandal, condemnation, or even much gossip.

The plot of The Fall of the Kings, which Kushner co-wrote with her partner Delia Sherman, turns not on its characters’ amorous adventures but on a deep, old archetype found in British folklore and tradition. Echoes of the story of the Oak King and the Holly King can be found in Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight, Le Mort D’Artur, accounts of William the Conqueror’s reign, and in modern Traditional British Witchcraft. Kushner takes this old myth and makes it new in a story that weaves love and sexuality, scholarship and magic, family duty and political intrigue, and ancient notions of kingship and leadership into a rich tapestry that touches the very deepest part of human experience.

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