I loved this book. It's set a couple decades after the events of Swordspoint and does feature a number of the same characters, but it can easily stand on its own. And unlike Swordspoint I was immediately emotionally invested in Katherine, because her world is more approachable to me than St. Vier's was, full of people mostly trying to do the right thing and build happy lives. Katherine is just your average girl from the landed class, raised to run a household and attract a husband. She knows nothing of politics and cares less; she has an eye for beauty and doesn't have an unconventional bone in her body. And in a classic fantasy of manners (or in fact any comedy of manners) twist she is sent off to the city to make her family's fortune and is immediately forced to break the most important conventions of her gender and her class.
What Kushner does absolutely brilliantly is take all the fantasy of manners tropes and subvert them, filling the book with page after page of witty, comedic banter and then hitting the reader with a line that cuts through to the real power dynamics in these sorts of stories -- the danger and the desperation inherent in the system we are so comfortable in in fantasy worlds. An example: one of the secondary characters is a pretty, vivacious girl Katherine's age going through her debut season, and she is being moody and demanding and in all ways a typical girl in this sort of story. Her brother, who wants to use the carriage, doesn't understand what's gotten into his normally sunny sister, and starts to pester her. Their mother immediately steps in and pulls him aside and asks to speak to him as an adult. This is what she says:
What happens to Artemesia this Season or the next will determine the course of her entire life from on. She is on display, everything about her: her clothes, her hair, her teeth, her laugh, her voice. . . Think of it as -- oh, I don't know, as a horse that has only one race to win. If she marries well, she will be comfortable and happy. If she makes a poor choice, or fails to attract a worthy man, the rest of her life will be a misery.
The game of courtship reduced to buying livestock, and even better is that even with this explanation the brother clearly doesn't understand exactly how little control of her own destiny his sister has, and how little margin for error there is.
But we the reader aren't allowed to forget this lesson, as Kushner weaves Artemesia's conventional life through Katherine's unconventional one, then brings the two girls together at an incredibly fraught Rogue's Ball that changes both their reputations in the City forever. From that point on the balance shifts decidedly from comedy to tragedy, though there are still little choices that Kushner makes that utterly delighted me -- for instance, Katherine and Artemesia both drawing on their reading of a Three Musketeers-esque novel to guide them through utterly unfamiliar waters. But as Kushner piles political complication on top of social complication on top of the problems inherent in talking about sex in a roughly Regency England era setting, we are forced to confront all of the ways that type of political system can leave people wide open to be victimized, and then can lead to society blaming the victims for their abusers acts.
All of which was so incredibly right, so perfectly suited to what I like and need to read, that I felt personally betrayed by the ending. In the last 20 pages Kushner took the novel back to its comedy of manners roots, waving a magic wand and making everything better, and then practically ended the story with "and they lived happily ever after." The ending of the novel made me scream in frustration, and I think I would actually recommend that people who respond the way I do to the 454 pages of the novel proper not even read the five pages of Coda.
Pretty good. This was my first introduction to Ellen Kushner. It seemed kind of odd that the main character was in first person but the book was told from several other viewpoints. I also didn't feel the main character, Lady Katherine, actually did much to merit having a book about her, but I did like the relationship between her and Marcus. If a sequel is written to further Lady Katherine's story I will definately read it, she has potential, it just wasn't utilized here.
An excellent fantasy with engaging and unusual characters. I found a few surprises here which were absolutely delightful! Well worth buying new, but I am passing my copy along as I see there are some wishing for it.
This was a fun read, set in an alternate medieval society, where the king has long ago been overthrown and the lords rule. Women are for the most part subservient, but the heroine of The Privelege of the Sword becomes something of a champion for the downtrodden. Her uncle is a crazy duke who has her trained to be a swordfighter. I enjoyed watching her come to like fencing, and like her newfound freedom and outsider status.
Swordspoint this was not, but it was well-written and entertaining. I guess I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn't been pining for the Richard-Alec dynamic the whole way through. Sequels can do that to ya.
Katherine was cute. I like the idea of a lady turning into a swordsman instead of the other way around. The fact that she was forced into it (which is usually the opposite of the story so that's a nice twist on convention) made me really interested in seeing how she would resolve her new role. I'm glad that she came to like it and became good at it.
I thought a bit more was going to happen in the book. It ended being a bit boring for me coming down in the last third. I mean, it was nice and I enjoyed it but it felt lacking somehow. I would still recommend it though.