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. The main character, Katherine, never truly takes center stage, and thus she never really has the ability carry this story along. The sole interesting character is the Mad Duke Tremontaine, but he never lives up to his apparent potential.
I refer to this book as fantasy chick lit because it contains several elements that are associated with "chick lit." There's a very "girly" approach to the narrative. It focuses on undying/forbidden love, corny romance, flowers, jewelry, gowns, fabrics, and an inordinate amount of emo moments. For crying out loud, the characters shed more tears in this book than bridesmaids at a wedding! There is only so much crying one can take, after all. In addition, the emo male characters are not authentic.
The Privilege of the Sword is supposed to be a coming-of-age tale that is hip and edgy. Original? Well, we've seen it all before, I'm afraid. The gender role-reversal was done by Robin Hobb in the Liveship Traders series, and Althea was a much more believable and genuine character than Katherine could ever hope to be. Edgy? Why, because it contains girls kissing girls and men having sex with other men? Gay and bisexual characters make The Privilege of the Sword edgy? Perhaps I'm too avant-garde, but not in this house. I kept plodding on, reading more and more, desperately hoping that I would finally grasp what made this book such a favorite among many SFF fans. But the more I read, the worst it got. I guess that Ellen Kushner's brand of storytelling just isn't for me. . . To each his own, as they say!
The plot is as linear and straightforward as it gets. I was never drawn into the story, period. No convoluted and multilayered storylines comprise this tale. It moves in a fluid yet highly predictable rhythm.
I know that many will disagree with me, yet as far as I'm concerned, this is one of the most overhyped novels I've ever read.
Disappointing. . . And no, I will not be reading Swordspoint. . .