When the Mad Duke Tremontaine offers to drop his vendetta against his sister if she surrenders her daughter to him for 6 months, young Katherine heads for the City with pipe-dreams of velvet cloaks, rich suitors and saving her family. But what does Alec Campion really want with her? And can a woman ever exercise the privilege of the sword?
Big themes are wrapped up in a coming of age story as Katherine is forged into a fierce, wilful, romantic woman as she is forced to break the rules and discovers it has its benefits. Katherine comes to recognise the unfair constraints society places on her and her friends, learning to re-evaluate what she has been taught to despise, and so she gains an intense freedom to act. It’s a familiar if inverted journey, and for once our heroine is supported (whether she wants it or not) – by the far from traditional men of the Tremontaine household.
There was a point where I worried about her agency (or lack thereof), precisely because she is constantly being pushed around by these men for the first half of the book. But the second half of the novel more than makes up for it: once Katherine realises what she is capable of, she – not Alec or Marcus – shapes her responses and takes action as she sees fit.
Fair warning: this one merits trigger warnings. Where my only real complaint about Swordspoint was the influence but invisibility of its women, The Privilege of the Sword puts women and women’s issues front and centre. We see them radiant and commanding, but we also see them controlled and victimised. I was honestly shocked by the rape, which pushes the narrative from teetering on the frivolous edge of fun to a darker confrontation of the societal norms with which it proceeds to engage. Hats off to Ellen Kushner. The aftermath of this pivotal event is unflinching, from the victim blaming to the personal trauma. Yet it’s not prurient. Male authors take note: this is how you tackle rape without being exploitative.
It’s one hell of a rollercoaster, and I was kept guessing to the end. I can only recommend it as a delightful if emotionally exhausting read.
- Paperback: 378 pages
- Publisher: Spectra Books (25 July 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0553382683
- ISBN-13: 978-0553382686
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.5 x 21 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 227 g
- Customer Reviews: 31 customer ratings