From The Writers' Room

Tremontaine and the Riverside Novels - A Reader's Guide

Prequels, sequels, and time jumps: Ellen Kushner is here to show you the way.

It’s kind of confusing, isn’t it?


You’ve just finished reading all thirteen Season One episodes of Tremontaine. Or you’re contemplating diving in, now that you don’t have to wait a week for each one. But . . . is there homework? Will there be a test?You already know that Tremontaine is pitched as a “prequel to Ellen Kushner’s blah blah better than sliced okra novel Swordspoint, published so long ago that it’s earned the label ‘cult classic;’ indeed, so very long ago that some people didn’t even have smartphones” – but where does that leave you now? Today?Should you read Swordspoint first, because it was published first? Or will that contain spoilers for Tremontaine? Or will Tremontaine contains spoilers for Swordspoint?


What if you’d never heard of either of them til now, but the librarian who understood you when nobody else did gave you The Privilege of the Sword when she found you crying in a corner of the Biographies, and you had no idea who the author was or that there was a novel that came before it, let alone this sudden “stunning prequel” business.And if The Privilege of the Sword is the sequel to Swordspoint, why was it published after The Fall of the Kings, which takes place about fifty years afterwards?Why indeed?There is an Explanation, but it is long and tedious, and therefore to be found on the author’s website.Meanwhile, here is all you need to know:* If you want to read the narratives in the order in which they happen to the characters themselves, pay no attention to the pub dates. The correct order is:- Tremontaine- Swordspoint - The Privilege of the Sword- The Fall of the Kings (written by Ellen Kushner & Delia Sherman)And if you’re a true completist, there are also short stories that weave their merry way in the interstices between novels, all listed here .* If you want to spin a wheel, and start with whatever looks good to you, you can do that, too. Because each book (and even every short story) was written to stand entirely on its own. It’s a promise I made myself, when I realized that my first novel, my “I’m not ever doing this again” novel, was going to turn into a series. I wanted to keep playing with that world and those people, but I didn’t want it to look like a series. Because I’m arrogant, that’s why. And series were different then. Also, I love a challenge.It’s a promise I’ve pretty much kept: Pick up any novel or short story, and you won’t be confused because you haven’t read any of the others. Sure, there are things you’ll know about certain events and characters that you


wouldn’t know if you read them in order. But that’s kind of like deciding at what point in anyone’s life – your grandmother’s, let’s say, or your first crush – you want to meet them, and how much of their past you want to hear about, or how far into your own future you want their company.Nobody’s ever the same age from book to book. The desperate teens in The Privilege of the Sword are all grown and settled and established and terrifying their younger relatives in Kings.And what you read first will probably determine what you pick up on in the others. If you began with The Fall of the Kings, everything else will be about the past that got us there. And you’ll wonder why there isn’t more about the University in two of the others, and get a kick out of seeing some of the old farts in Kings being feckless young students in Tremontaine—no, wait, that’s coming in Season Two…..If you started with Swordspoint, you’re going to be wondering all the time in all the rest when the swordsman St Vier and his lover Alec are going to turn up. And sometimes you’ll get lucky.

Tremontaine Series Cover

If you start at the other chronological end with Tremontaine, you will know things about the Duchess Diane that even I didn’t know when I wrote Swordspoint – but which all seem perfectly obvious to me now.That’s the weird and wonderful thing about writing in this world: I keep finding hints I’ve dropped myself, clues that that the younger writer wasn’t even aware of, but nevertheless wrote in, about the city and its economy, about the Tremontaine clan and their in-fights, about students and teachers and swordsmen and their mothers. As the years go by, I can pick up the hints and threads, and weave them together in a way that makes sense in ways I couldn’t have known.I don’t want to be too specific here, in case you haven’t read everything. But next time we’re in the same place,[1] find some friends, set up a Tremontaine Spoilers Table, and I’ll spill the beans for you. Including the bits I haven’t even written yet.[2][1] In 2016 I plan to be at ICFA, WisCon, Clarion, Readercon and World Fantasy Convention. Full schedule with links is here .[2] I want to take this Footnote to thank, extol and admire all my collaborators on the Tremontaine serial. They not only created characters who fit the world perfectly, but picked up and ran with some of the ones who already existed – and breathed life and vigor into them in such a way that everything seemed real and inevitable. Which just underscores to me the notion that they really do have a life of their own. Or that all my friends are geniuses. Which, of course, they are.

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