The Privilege of the Sword


After a week of being convicted, sick, and somewhat miserable, a good book is the only solution. So I trekked to the library to find something familiar, a book of comfort. And found myself holding this book: The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner. The description intrigued me so I left holding a new book and I ended up reading it in less than a day. The last time I did that was with a J. D. Robb novel (she’s a particular favorite of mine). So needless to say the book kept me on my toes. This is my first book for my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011. I didn’t realize it counted but it is HF FANTASY. Woot! One down eleven to go.

The story follows a young lady, Katherine, as she learns how to use the sword as payment to her mad uncle, The Duke of Tremontaine, for dropping the lawsuit against her family. She expects for quite sometime that she would also be attending balls and such, but quickly learns that her uncle has no real interest in her and has abandoned her to her lessons with a foreign swordsman who treats her very ill indeed.

Then she is shipped off to Highcombe where her mysterious master teaches her the art as none other could. Finally, she returns to live with her uncle and she begins to understand him better. She makes friends with the lively young Marcus, the only one who can calm the duke in a mad rage. The characters in this book are sublime. The plot was well thought out and very intricate. It dragged me along willingly to see where it would end up.

Although the writing itself was excellent, there are several things that disturbed me. The Duke is a blatant homosexual who sleeps around freely, as are many characters in the story. It seems to a be a norm, although the upper class looks on the gay community with disdain. Everyone seems to dabble around with everyone else. It’s disgusting and absurd. It made the Duke someone to pitied. He was certainly mad and dangerous and ridiculously clever, but sad. Very sad. And the fact that he had so many lovers made me hate him. Maybe that was the point. I don’t know that I would have liked him even without his liberality. He was a disgustingly selfish hedonist. He reminded me a lot of Dorian Gray.

I loved the rest of the characters though (excepting, of course, the bad guy). Katherine was a wonderful heroine and I loved her instantly. She dislikes learning swordplay only until she reads a novel about a dashing swordsman named Fabian and his lady Stella. She comes to memorize the novel and when practicing often pretends to be him. One of my favorite parts is when she is “fighting” a straw man she has named Fifi.

I waited ’til he was gone; then I stared hard at Fifi. The straw head was just a featureless orb. Could I find somewhere a wig with inky curls? “You,” I said, “may live to regret this day. Or, if not this day, the day that you met me. They are much the same. For two entered by that window, but only one of us shall leave by it. Have at you!

I can perfectly imagine her hacking away at the straw dummy dramatically reciting lines from her favorite book. Perhaps because I would do the same things, no doubt, if I had a sword. It’s a good thing I don’t…

I would not recommend this book to children, or people who are more conservative. There are some rather shocking parts. I liked it as a whole. I liked the characters and Ellen’s style of writing, but I don’t know that I would pick it up again. I think I would advise that you, dear reader, would be discerning, for I honestly don’t know if I’d recommend it to you or not.

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