The Privilege of the Sword - Ellen Kushner image
Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my LOCUS FANTASY list.

As the Locus Sci-Fi Award winners list treated me so kindly, I figure I’ll trust those same good folk to pick me some stars in their sister-list, the Locus Fantasy Award winners.

While I was working my way through the list of Locus Sci-Fi Award winners, I decided to dip a toe into the sister-list for Locus Fantasy winners. I ordered a trio of books from authors I’d never read before Lavinia, Paladin of Souls and The Privilege of the Sword – and this came second out of the three.

At heart, it’s a traditional coming of age tale for our teenage heroine, Katherine, a sweet and romantic girl who dreams of getting dolled-up in pretty gown and snaring a handsome gentleman at a fancy ball. She’s forced to put her own desires aside in the name of familial duty when her rich, mad uncle, the Duke, comes a-calling. His (fairly arbitrary) offer is this: she comes with him to the city, dresses only in men’s clothes and learns to be a swordsman and in return he will save her family’s finances.

Based on this premise, I was expecting some pretty cheesy, clichéd shenanigans and a bit of sledgehammer-subtle feminism – I was pleasantly surprised!

It's a lot more grounded and convincing than cheeseball. The mad Duke keeps things… unpredictable and sometimes pretty funny. Katherine is a very likeable lass, and as she’s slowly won over by the honour and excitement of swordplay it’s hard not to feel a little of her elation. The blind sword master was pretty cool – as was his unconventional relationship with the Duke. The overall tone and spin on the regency style was lively, refreshing and fun.

This is the second in a trilogy, but I read it as a stand-alone and it holds up perfectly well. I understand the first book is set nearly twenty years earlier, so while it fleshes out the world and the duke’s early life, it’s not essential reading.

My main complaint with this book was the ending – I don’t want to give too much away but it’s abrupt, carries no emotional punch and wraps things up far too conveniently for the next book feel 'true'.

The Privilege of the Sword scores a very comfortable three star rating from me – I read it, I enjoyed every minute of it and look back on our time together with fondness, but it didn’t rock my world and I didn’t feel compelled to check out the prequel or sequel.

The Privilege of the Sword won the 2007 Locus Fantasy Award. The Locus Sci-Fi award that year went to Rainbow's End (which I didn't enjoy) and the Locus Y-A Award went to Wintesmith, which is my favourite of the three but not top-drawer Pratchett. Conclusion? 2007 wasn't the finest vintage for Locus award winners.

Having said that, The Lies of Locke Lamora was nominated that year and finished 22nd in the rankings! I wonder how that would fare if the award were given retrospectively? Might be a fun little project one day... or perhaps I have enough lists already?