Review – The Privilege of the Sword

The Privilege of the Sword (Riverside No.2) – Ellen Kushner

Bantam Books, 2006

For as long as she can remember, Katherine’s uncle Alec Campion – better known in the city as the dissolute and debauched Mad Duke Tremontaine – has been waging a legal battle against her family, reducing them into tighter and tighter financial straits. Then abruptly he changes his mind. The family fortune’s will be restored…if Katherine agrees to sever all contact with them for six months, dress as a boy and be taught how to fight with a sword. Swept into a glamorous, untrustworthy world, Katherine will have to learn quickly to keep her feet. It’s not just a matter of whether she’ll make it through the next six months unscathed. The question is, who will she end up becoming?

I hate starting mid-series and always avoid it if I can, but my library did not have Swordspoint so I had to start with book two. It became very clear early on that The Privilege of the Sword will mean much more if you understand the older characters’ backstories. That said – this is a brilliant book. On the surface it’s an irreverent, richly written romp but there are darker notes woven through that give it a memorable depth. Katherine is a delightful protagonist, but the people around her are all fascinating, their characters and circumstances beautifully nuanced. It’s also fantastic to see so many LGBT characters, and so accepted in their world. I intend to read Swordspoint as soon as I can, as well as book three in the Riverside series, The Fall of the Kings.

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