Book Log

Book Log #53: The Privilege of the Sword, by Ellen Kushner

It took me quite a while to get around to reading The Privilege of the Sword, but once I finally did, I was rather glad of it. It didn’t strike me as quite the oh-my-god-amazing thing that the buzz for the book made it out to be when it first came out, but still, I did like it quite a bit.

This is a long-awaited sequel to an unusual little fantasy novel called Swordspoint, although I didn’t realize this until I’d actually picked up my copy. What made that initial novel unusual is still in play here: a fantasy setting which for once actually isn’t a monarchy (the nobility, we are told, overthrew their “kings” in a past era), and where magic may have existed once but which does no longer. (It’s also one of the few fantasy novels I’ve read to date where you can find same-sex attraction and same-sex relationships, and they just aren’t a problem, which is nice.)

Those of you who have read Swordspoint will possibly remember the characters Alec Campion (herein ‘the Mad Duke Tremontaine’) and Richard St. Vier, both of whom show up again here. But while their bond to one another does have a poignant followup in this story, the main gist of the plot has to do with Campion’s ordering his sister to give up her daughter Katherine to him so that he may have her trained in swordfighting. At first this scandalizes everyone, including Katherine herself–but as the girl comes of age she is irrevocably changed by the freedoms she’s earned for herself because of it. When she stands up in defense of a young noblewoman who’s raped by the man she’s engaged to marry, she sets off a political firestorm for her uncle as well.

All in all the character development of Katherine is by far the best part of this book for me, and the story shines when it’s focused on that. There are other side scenes that distract from this for me, and which give the whole thing a sort of episodic air, interrupting its flow. But to be sure, the depicted world is lush and detailed, and it’s well worth a visit, whether or not you’ve read the book that came before. Four stars.

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