The Privilege of the Sword follows Katherine, a poor noblewoman who is invited to her uncle’s home in the city. She arrives expecting a season of balls and parties and hoping to find a good match and secure her family’s future, but her uncle, the unconventional Mad Duke Tremontaine, has other ideas. Katherine is to become a swordsman (and his bodyguard), unprecedented for a woman.
I first heard about this book on the Williamsburg Regional Library blog, Blogging for a Good Book. Like that reviewer, I was immediately struck by the proud swordswoman on the cover, and being a sucker for swashbuckling women, figured that I would probably enjoy the book. Upon further research, I discovered that it was a sequel to Swordspoint, which I decided to read first (earlier this year.) Although I didn’t love Swordspoint, I liked it enough to want to read more, and I’ve finally gotten around to it.
The Privilege of the Sword, and other Ellen Kushner books have been described as a “fantasy of manners.” I can certainly understand the “manners” bit, but I’m not quite sure that it’s a fantasy. I’ve always thought of the defining characteristic of fantasy being magic/some sort of supernatural power. The Privilege of the Sword takes place in an imaginary world, but there is no magic involved.
Anyway, onto the actual review. I really enjoyed the book, more so than Swordspoint, probably because of the younger, female protagonist. Katherine was a lot of fun to read about, she’s determined, curious, and honourable. She manages to become an accomplished swordsman without losing any of her femininity. Her reactions to all the things that happen to (and around) her, and her growth as a character is written really well and feels totally real. The world of the nobles around her is also entertaining (although probably would be really tiresome to live in), with constant plotting and scheming within the strict customs of rich society.
I’ll definitely be reading the third book set in this world, The Fall of The Kings, soon!
This is book 6 of 25 of my Dec 11, 2011 book challenge.
- “The Thief Lord” by Cornelia Funke
- “Malgudi Days” by R. K. Narayan