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The Privilege of the Sword [Paperback]

Ellen Kushner
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

July 25 2006
Welcome to Riverside, where the aristocratic and the ambitious battle for power in the city's ballroom, brothels and boudoirs. Into this alluring world walks Katherine, a well-bred country girl versed in the rules of conventional society. Her mistake is thinking that they apply. For Katherine's host and uncle, Alec Campion, aka the Mad Duke Tremontaine, is in charge here—and to him, rules are made to be broken. When Alec decides it would be more amusing for his niece to learn swordplay than to follow the usual path to marriage, her world changes forever. Blade in hand, it's up to Katherine to navigate a maze of secrets and scoundrels and to gain the self-discovery that comes to those who master: the privilege of the sword.

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From Publishers Weekly

Kushner's winning high fantasy with its sophisticated swordplay marks a welcome return to the romantic Riverside world she introduced in Swordspoint (1987). Coming-of-age gets complicated for winsome Lady Katherine Samantha Campion Talbert after she's shipped off to her uncle, the Mad Duke of Tremontaine (aka David Alexander "Alec" Tielman Campion), who reigns over a decadent world of erotic and political intrigue. At first Kate's frightened of becoming a swashbuckler, but after training with the duke's favorite lover, the dashing Richard St. Vier, and becoming friends with Marcus, Alec's devoted young assistant, she finds she's more than up for the task. Her skills are tested in her effort to avenge the rape of her best friend, Lady Artemesia Fitz-Levy, by one of her uncle's foes, Anthony Deverin (aka Lord Ferris, Crescent Chancellor of the Council of Lords). Kate's discovery that "Fear is enemy to the sword" and love is the key to triumph leads to surprising consequences. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The most recent Riverside story follows Swordspoint (2003) in chronology and features many of its characters. Alec, Duke Tremontaine, aka the Mad Duke of Riverside, has sent for his impoverished young niece, Katherine. She and her family hope he'll make a good marriage for her, but the Mad Duke has decided to train her as a sword fighter. She is furious, and besides a swordmaster to train her, her uncle also springs what becomes her fall into society, without warning or training, on her. She learns the sword perforce out of self-defense and also, bit by bit, the city, the nobility, politics, and her uncle. When Katherine is trained and entered into society with her weapon, she wades hip-deep into plots against her uncle and becomes the champion of a lady in distress, too. Plot and style hereare in the swashbuckling tradition of Dumas, but the characters are very real beneath their facades, people who bleed when they are cut, even when manners require that they make nothing of it. Frieda Murray
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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3.0 out of 5 stars Don't believe the hype! Nov. 18 2007
By Patrick St-Denis TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I didn't buy this book when it was initially released because it appeared to be a sure miss for me. Then followed praise and rave reviews, and still I declined to pick it up. It is only when it was nominated for the World Fantasy Award that I finally caved in. Given the fact that I don't always agree with the WFA nominations, and even more seldomly with the winners, I should have known better. . . In a way, I brought this upon myself. . .

I am acutely aware that some will grill me for saying this, but Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword is, in my humble opinion (which doesn't count for much, as some will surely point out!), fantasy chick lit. I'm all for strong and genuine female protagonists, yet this is one of the "girliest" novels I've ever read. Needless to say, this book didn't do it for me. I'm not implying that male readers won't enjoy it (many already have, with more to come, I'm sure), but, personally, I found it completely impossible to connect with the characters and the paper-thin plot underlying this tale.

On the upside, Kushner's prose is excellent. The author writes her narrative economically and skillfully. The Privilege of the Sword is as well-written as it gets. Still, as good as the prose is, it cannot possibly make a boring and predictable story any better.

There is no worldbuilding to speak of. This novel reads more like an alternate history book than a fantasy tale. Unfortunately, it lacks that breadth of details that an author like Guy Gavriel Kay brings to the table.

The characterization is the aspect which leaves the most to be desired. Artemisia and Lydia rank among the most insufferable, whiny, vapid, harebrained and soporific characters in the history of the genre.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  44 reviews
64 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A privilege and a pleasure to read July 26 2006
By Riki B. Stein - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is the book I have been waiting for since I first read Swordspoint, more than ten years ago.

It's not the first sequel. When The Fall of the Kings came out, a few years back, I devoured that too. And I was delighted to find old familiar names, and see how the City had changed, and I learned fascinating things about its history, and gnawed my knuckles in sheer envy over the complicated silver chocolate services... but I wasn't quite satisfied, because it had skipped a generation ahead, and it didn't really tell me what I most wanted to know, which was "what became of Richard and Alec?"

This one does.

This is a jewel of a book. At first I thought of it as a tray of pastries, each more cunning and delicious than the last -- creamy eclairs, jam tarts, marzipan fruits with their hint of cyanide bitterness under the sweet -- with all of the gowns and matchmaking and Riverside debauchery and multi-era historical details, with all of the froth of the best Georgette Heyer novels, concentrated and multiplied -- and then, as I read further on, it was as if I found another platter of savory morsels hiding behind it, because Ellen Kushner doesn't stop at the glorious surface froth. She's spent a great deal of time considering how the sordid, dreary, and messy complications we're used to in modern life would play out in the setting and the culture she's developed. It gives everything depth, and richness, and a startling reality.

If you've ever wondered what became of any of the characters from Swordspoint, you'll find it out in this book. Well, I didn't notice Nimble Willie the pickpocket, I suppose, but otherwise, they're all there. And you learn what drove Alec to live as he did, and... oh, there is SO MUCH in this book.

Also, if you are like me, you will be utterly slain by the recurrence of this line: "'Hello,' he said. 'I've brought us some fish.'"

Read it. Buy it. Buy it for all your friends, but make them read Swordspoint first.

Absolutely worth the wait.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ellen Kushner does it again! Aug. 19 2006
By Elisabeth Carey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Alec Campion, the Mad Duke, is some twenty years older than in Swordspoint, but he isn't any less a trial to his family, friends, and enemies. Dividing his time between Tremontaine House and his Riverside house, the Duke Tremontaine hosts parties ranging from the risqué to the debauched, and lives a life of dissipation.

He also quietly makes political trouble for those intent schemes that would line their own pockets at the expense of the less powerful and the less well-connected. Aside from his own affinity for the dispossessed, it doesn't hurt at all that the principal plotter against the general good is his old enemy, Anthony Deverin, Lord Ferris. Into this political and social minefield, Tremontaine brings his niece, Katherine. With the stick of a revived lawsuit challenging his sister's marriage settlement and the carrot of permanently settling the lawsuit, he forces his sister Janine to send her daughter to him--with an absolute ban on family contact for six months.

Katherine arrives with happy dreams of fine dresses and a Season in town. She quickly learns that she will have only boy's clothes, and fencing lessons. Her uncle is having her trained to be his bodyguard.

As Katherine slowly learns her way around the duke's household, the city, and a sword, she also acquires a few friends, most notably Marcus, the duke's young assistant, and Lady Artemisia Fitz-Levi, a sweet but somewhat silly young lady of her own age, who nevertheless receives and accepts a proposal of marriage from the most eligible bachelor available--the widowed Lord Ferris.

Katherine's not happy to discover she'll be going to no respectable balls, wearing no dresses, and being received by practically nobody, but she does learn to enjoy swordplay and, with Marcus, trailing and investigating one of the Duke's visitors, whom she recognizes from her one very brief attempt to visit Artemisia. Unfortunately, the next place she meets Artemisia is at the Rogues' Ball. Katherine has come with the Duke; Artemisia with her fiancé, Lord Ferris. Lord Ferris, concerned that the flighty Artemisia might call off the betrothal that he's counting on for reasons of his own, has taken advantage of this evening away from Artemisia's family, friends, and chaperones to make sure she has no choice. Artemisia begs for Katherine's help, and Katherine's personal desire to avenge and protect her friend gets tangled up with the Duke's personal and political enmity for Ferris. Everyone's keeping secrets from everyone, and things start to spiral out of control.

Like Swordspoint, this is a really fine fantasy novel with not a hint of magic to be found in it anywhere.

Recommended.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Angieville: THE PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD Nov. 1 2008
By Angela Thompson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I finally got around to reading this one after reading review after glowing review by a host of well-known authors. THE PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD is indeed high, swashbuckling fantasy that reads like a cross between Georgette Heyer and Guy Gavriel Kay. And for the first half of the book, I really enjoyed it.

Katherine is a very nice young noblewoman from the country. When her uncle, the Mad Duke, offers to raise her family out of impending poverty in exchange for Katherine coming to live with him in the city and training as a swordswoman, she doesn't even think about it twice. To save her family (and perhaps make a good marriage in town), Katherine jumps at the chance. Trouble is, her uncle really does appear to be "mad" and, in lieu of joining him in his bouts of debauchery and midnight carousing, Katherine is left to fend for herself. After her initial horror at wearing men's clothes, she surprises herself by taking to the art of sword fighting quite quickly. The duke's faithful servant Marcus takes her under his wing as well. The two of them quickly become friends and partners in their secret quest to find out just what the devil the duke and his secret, highborn visitors are up to.

Its rich, heady atmosphere and fast pace are the story's strong points. And the Mad Duke Tremontaine is priceless. I never did grow very close to Katherine, though. And her developing relationship with Marcus seemed forced, as though they got together for lack of having anyone better around. I didn't buy that they really cared that much for each other. I did buy that they both cared about the duke, and with good reason. I wanted more on his character and the machinations of his Hamlet-style, mad north-north-west mind. The story felt like it wanted to go in so many different directions, and explore so many characters at once, but didn't have the necessary space nor sanity to do so, that it was hard to care about the characters you wanted to. I enjoyed it for the most part. I just wish it had stayed in one place long enough for me to really fall in love.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ripping good fun Sept. 8 2006
By John A. League - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you have a swash in need of buckling, check out Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword. Yes, it is everything you think it is: a romance (in the traditional sense of the word, not the genre sense--well, maybe that, too), a fantasy, a satire. And it is many things that you don't expect: a pointed commentary on gender, sex, family and love, and a ripping good adventure as well.

It is Kushner's willingness and ability to screw with your expectations that make the novel enjoyable. From the vulgar core beneath Lord Ferris' refined and gentlemanly exterior to the nobility of the loose-living Duke Tremontaine to the inexorable resolve of the flighty Artemisia Fitz-Levi, none of Kushner's characters is all light or all darkness. When I finished the book, I was sorry that it had ended.

There are numerous characters who made previous appearances in Kushner's other Riverside novels, but foreknowledge of their dealings is not necessary to enjoy the book. That said, many of the asides and minor details of the book are much more likely to delight those who have read Swordspoint and The Fall of the Kings than Kushner neophytes like me.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Enormously Satisfying Sequel! Aug. 22 2006
By kristianjl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Just finished the book this morning. What a wonderful sequel to Swordspoint! I've missed the deliciously wicked, biting dialogue and impossibly twisted situations. The repartee and swordsplay make this book indulgent fun! Young Katherine Talbert is swept into the worlds of the Hill and Riverside by her uncle, the mad Duke Tremontaine. Lover and swordsman St. Vier is back too but not as you would expect! It is wonderful to see these familiar settings through Katherine's wide eyes. Ellen Kushner writes like a dream and the book is very very hard to put down for any length of time. Her "The Fall of the Kings" was great too... but this is the true sequel - the one we've been waiting for- for too long!
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