four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
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0

A-The Privilege of the SwordIn a world of swords but no sorcerers, a protracted dispute between the Mad Duke Tremontaine of Riverside and his impoverished sister changes the life of her daughter, Katherine Talbert. At 15, Katherine is sent from the country to live with her wealthy uncle in the city, an arrangement aimed at settling the conflict. Instead of wearing pretty clothes and attending balls, she’s required to dress in men’s clothing and learn swordsmanship. She navigates the labyrinthine underbelly of Riverside while absorbing lessons about gender, class, and privilege—and even defends the honor of a damsel in distress. The novel narrates Katherine’s development from a naïve teen to an adult sword fighter with a sophisticated understanding of how this fascinating world works.
Bantam. 400 pages. $14. ISBN: 0553382683

Green Man Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[N]ot just a study in class, but a dissection of our whole way of thinking, even in a supposedly post-feminist world, about men and women and what their appropriate roles are. … If Swordspoint is a perfect gem, The Privilege of the Sword is the gem in its full setting: elegant, wicked, funny, intelligent, and fluent." Robert M. Tilendis

Bookslut 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] ripping good yarn that is chock full of engrossing and subversive undercurrents. … The only failure of Sword is both a curse and a blessing. The story doesn’t feel 100 percent complete when read in isolation." Adrienne Martini

Magazine of Fantasy & SF 4 of 5 Stars
"There’s a lot in this book about the lives of women in a society that treats women as either chattel or, well, chattel, really—but Kushner never sermonizes. … It might give some people something to think about if they’re not so engrossed in the what-happens-next that makes this book such a delight." Michelle West

Strange Horizons 4 of 5 Stars
"Katherine’s story, and the stories of those around her, concern privilege: who has it, who doesn’t have it, and the consequences it brings. … The Privilege of the Sword, for all its serious underpinnings, is a delight to read, with colorful, well-defined characters and a droll sense of humor." Yoon Ha Lee

Sci Fi Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Is The Privilege of the Sword as good as Swordspoint? The answer is: Pretty damned close! … The Privilege of the Sword has a couple of weak points, in its rather rushed climax and a conclusion that is both fairytale-ish and a tad ambiguous." Cynthia Ward

Critical Summary

Ellen Kushner, host of public radio’s Sound & Spirit, won the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Thomas the Rhymer (1990). She also wowed readers with her 1987 debut Swordspoint. She has revisited its setting in two novels: The Fall of the Kings (with Delia Sherman) (2002), and now The Privilege of the Sword. Critics admire the new novel’s well-drawn characters, sharp humor, and driving plot; some even suggested starting with Swordspoint to become acquainted with the setting and the characters. Kushner’s work may appeal to readers who generally avoid fantasy: her characters are human, magic is absent, and her world is "slantingly reminiscent" of Jane Austen’s England. It’s also filled with topical commentary on class, sexual orientation, and identity.

First in the Series

Swordspoint (1987): Sometimes subtitled "A Melodrama of Manners," it is more regal than rollicking. Kushner introduces her world of political intrigue where aristocrats hire swordsmen to fight their battles. Richard St. Vier is such a swordsman, and he and his scholar-boyfriend Alex are caught amidst rivalries.