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Friday, February 10, 2017

The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner

The Privilege of the Sword was unlike any fantasy* novel I've read.  The novel contained all the elements one would expect from a story like this -- the young protagonist who is not as lady-like as she is supposed to be; the flighty, more feminine best friend; the rakish, dangerous lord who breaks all the rules; the corrupt, vengeful antagonist; the aging mentor; the street-wise orphan; quasi-regency society; romances both true and false; the supreme importance of honor -- but nothing played out as I expected.  Kushner did something entirely fresh and unusual, yet mostly plausible, with these tropes.  The result was a compelling novel I took in as if I were completely new to reading fiction; no small feat given how much I've learned about story-telling conventions over the years.

I don't think I will read the other two novels in this series, however.  For all that I appreciated, and even enjoyed, what Kushner did, the world she created is not one I want to return to.  Despite all the ribbons and lace and swordplay and adventure, it is a fundamentally amoral, materialist world, filled with people who are clever and witty but not sincere, always seeking pleasure and never experiencing joy.

*I use the term loosely.  It is set in a world similar to but not our own, yet there was no actual magic.


  1. It sounds very intriguing. I read a lot of fantasy and YA, you do tend to get the "read this before" vibe after a while.

    1. For that reason alone, I recommend the book; it's a refreshing story in some ways.