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25 December 2006 @ 11:39 am
A book review!

Title: The Privilege of the Sword
Author: Ellen Kushner
Genre: Fantasy
# of Pages: 376 (paperback)
Rating: A
Summary: (from the back cover)
Welcome to Riverside, where the aristocratic and the ambitious battle for power and prestige in the city's labyrinth of streets and ballrooms, theatres and brothels, boudoirs and salons. Into this alluring and charming world walks a bright young woman ready to take it on and make her fortune. A well-bred country girl, Katherine knows all the rules of conventional society. Her biggest mistake is thinking they apply.

Katherine's host and uncle, Alec Campion, the capricious and decadent Mad Duke Tremontaine, is in charge here--and to him, rules are made to be broken. When he decides it would be far more amusing for his niece to learn swordplay than to follow the usual path to ballroom and husband, her world changes forever. And there's no going back. Blade in hand, it's up to Katherine to find her own way through a maze of secrets and betrayals, nobles and scoundrels--and to gain the power, respect, and self-discovery that come to those who matter...

What an amazing novel! Long ago I read Swordspoint from the library and remembered enjoying it, so on a whim I chose The Privilege of the Sword at Borders. I'm so glad I did! This book was a fascinating alter perspective of the Swordspoint characters (although I will be rereading the first novel, to refresh my memory about some of the vaguely familiar characters).

The book has an interesting structure that is easily misused--numerous switches amongst first-person (Katherine) and various third-person limited perspectives--but Kushner handles the transitions deftly. Concise snippets of description still manage to create a vivid setting and the prose is impeccable. Katherine is well characterized, defeating the dangerous fantasy stereotype of a teenage swordswoman. She is not perfect--she genuinely struggles with relationships, is only moderately good at the sword, and evolves from a naïve country girl to a polished, independent lady.

But though the story focuses on Katherine, it is not only about her. When I cried halfway through the book, it was for Alec, the Mad Duke Tremontaine. Alec has traded St. Vier, his lover and swordsman, for political influence and riches, and he despises his life. To escape from it all, he drinks, takes drugs, and engages in meaningless (and frequent) sex. In short, Alec Campion is a mess and utterly lost without the love of his life, Richard St. Vier.

The novel's flaws are few and minor. Dialogue is often tagless, and sometimes this can be confusing. Homosexuality plays a major role, including semi-explicit slash. While I don't consider this a negative point, I am also well aware that my personal opinions tend to stray from mainstream.

The Privilege of the Sword is a superb novel; it makes me yearn to reread Swordspoint, as well as run out and buy The Fall of the Kings (co-written with Delia Sherman). Thomas the Rhymer also sounds intriguing, though not set in the world of Riverside. I highly recommend this book to all open-minded fantasy lovers--you won't regret it, although I do advise reading Swordspoint first for full effect.

Cross-posted to bookshare and my personal journal.
Keilexandrakeilexandra on December 26th, 2006 01:16 am (UTC)
Really? Oops. XD But it's canon, not cannon. :P