‘The Privilege Of The Sword’ is the third book Ellen Kushner has written in the ‘Riverside’ series, it is a standalone novel but does visit some characters seen in the other books. The book is set in an age of chivalry, where honour is a very important concept and duels can be fought for any slight to it. In this world, the monarchy has been overthrown and the land is led by the Council of Lords.
Katherine Talbert is a nobly born young girl raised in the country on her parents’ lands which are under contention. Katherine’s uncle, Alec Campion, the Duke of Tremontaine, has made a claim on the lands her mother was given as a dowry and has been suing the Talbert family for many years. The Duke offers the Talbert family a deal, Katherine is to be brought to the city be trained as a swordsman and, in return, he will stop his lawsuit and pay off their debts.
On arrival at the city, Katherine finally meets the Mad Duke, as he is known, in the city. A man known for his many vices that include drinking, gambling, whoring and taking drugs. The Duke rules Riverside, the nefarious part city and keeps it under control but he has made many enemies along the way. Having lost his previous swordsman, the Duke plans to make Katherine his new one. Katherine naively dreams of balls, nice dresses and beaus but soon sees that she now has only one purpose to her life, learning to be a swordsman. She reluctantly trains under two sword-masters and slowly begins to forget her old desires.
Katherine struggles to make friends as her uncle is extremely mercurial and shows her little attention. The only social gatherings she is taken to are sordid and dangerous affairs and even the people there see her as an oddity. She finally manages to befriend Marcus, her uncle’s manservant, and Artemesia, a noble who is living the life Katherine should have been. After first learning swordplay due to necessity, Katherine realises the freedom it gives her and decides to use her new skills to defend those who are wronged.
I found the ‘The Privilege Of The Sword’ was quite slow-paced. I was never really sure where the plot was going or what the culmination would be. The book is rather graphic at times in describing the vices of the characters and there are a few scenes of abuse that can be upsetting. Although I did enjoy all of interesting and complex characters, Kushner created, each one was multi-faceted, especially the Mad Duke, but I don’t think I will read the others books in the series.
(pub: Bantam Spectra, 2006. 378 page enlarged paperback. Price: $14.00 (US), $18.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-553-38268-3
pub: Bantam Spectra, 2006 . 459 page paperback. Price: $ 6.99 (US), $ 8.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-553-58696-1)