The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner
|Book Name:||The Privilege of the Sword|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Audiobook / eBook|
|Release Date:||June 26, 2007|
The Privilege Of The Sword is the sequel to Ellen Kushner’s legendary novel, Swordspoint, which told the story of the romance between Alec Campion and swordsman Richard St Veir.
The Privilege Of The Sword is set in the city of Riverside, some twenty years after the first book, where quarrels are settled by hired blades. When Katherine, the niece of the Mad Duke Tremontaine (Alec, dark and unpredictable as ever), is ordered to her uncle’s side to pay off her family’s debts, little does she realize the plans he has for her. She is hoping for an introduction into Riverside high society; instead she finds herself given boys clothes and introduced to a fencing master, not unlike Syrio Forel in A Song of Ice and Fire. The Mad Duke intends, for his own amusement, for her to become a master swordswoman. But Riverside is a maze of traps, and Katherine must tread carefully as she uncovers the dark secrets that lie behind the façade of masked balls and theatrics.
The sprawling city of Riverside is stratified in a way reminiscent of Jane Austen, or Charles Dickens. On the one hand, living on the Hill, are the lords and ladies of Society, the Fitz-Levi’s and Godwin’s of the city. They are imprisoned by the rules of an elaborate dance of propriety that the Mad Duke is so keen to break at every opportunity.
On the other hand are the people of the streets, the whores and pickpockets, gin-soaked besoms and servant boys. These are Alec Campion’s people; he has risen from their ranks to become Duke Tremontaine, and in his own way he looks out for them. The Duke, and consequently Katherine, walk a fine line between the highest society and the lowest, and that line is crossed when Katherine’s sword crosses that of the most powerful man in the city in defence of a friend.
The story switches between the first person narration of Katherine, and the third-person viewpoints of the supporting characters. It’s an unusual technique, a little disconcerting at first, but the flow of the story settles down once the reader gets used to the switches.
Katherine is wonderful, well-bred (without being snooty), quietly courageous, and loyal. The book follows her coming-of-age from a confused country girl at the mercy of her uncle’s strange fancy, via her blossoming sexuality, her training, and her quiet determination to stick up for her friends. I thought I had her path worked out in my head, but it turns out I was thrown a curve ball and the ending, while unexpected, does have a pay-off that fans of Swordspoint will love, while leaving elements wide open for sequels.
The Privilege of the Sword doesn’t have the emotional intensity of Swordspoint. While Katherine’s journey is entertaining, the plot is relatively slight, and it’s a little bit of a let-down that the final act of the drama is left entirely in Alec’s hands, after it’s been made clear that Katherine is perfectly capable of fighting her own battles. But the book is beautifully written- Kushner’s prose reads like poetry in places – and it touches on themes of feminism, gender-identity and socialism without ever once feeling like hard work.