“The Duke of Riverside” by Ellen Kushner from Wilde Stories 2012 (Lethe Press). Edited by Steve Berman.
As with the previous entry, this story is just the tip of the iceberg for an entire body of work based on a setting and characters. So if you like it, there’s plenty more to read.
How fortunate, because this is a great story. And a great entry point to the story world, too, I would think, since it describes the meeting of two of the main players. Not that it matters; the author says she wrote all of them to stand alone. On her website she puts all the novels and short stories in order chronologically per the story world, and this tale comes in at number seven on a list of thirteen. But again, in my opinion it’s a great place to start. By which I mean, of course, that I’m hooked.
A big part of the reason why is because the voice used in this piece is remarkably strong. The reader has confidence that the story will go somewhere and the journey will be worth his or her time because the voice promises it will be so. And it does. And it is.
The narrator of the piece isn’t named in it. He’s telling us a piece of a story he lived. This section chronicles the arrival in town of a mysterious scholar. The young man has the air of one of the wealthy residents who occupy a higher ground close by. The stranger also seems to have a death wish, kind of a much earlier version of the “death by cop” phenomena. The newly arrived young man, whose name turns out to be Alec, begins pestering a local swordsman named Richard St. Vier, trying to cajole or annoy him into slaying an unarmed man (the scholar). As you may suspect, that isn’t going to happen. What does happen, which I think no one would have guessed before this story was published in Wilde Stories 2012, is that St. Vier and Alec end up an item. They then find themselves under attack, but not for the reason that probably first comes to mind, and the ending is one of the most uplifting I’ve ever read. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adored this story all the way through, but the ending is definitely icing on the cake.
This was, too, a great finish to what is one of the strongest anthologies I’ve read. There’s amazing range to this collection, and simply fantastic storytelling all the way through.