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Literature / The Privilege of the Sword

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The Privilege of the Sword is a fantasy novel by Ellen Kushner. It is a sequel to Swordspoint, set a generation later, and is followed by The Fall Of The Kings.

Welcome to Riverside, where the aristocratic and the ambitious battle for power in the city's ballroom, brothels and boudoirs. Into this alluring world walks Katherine, a well-bred country girl versed in the rules of conventional society. Her mistake is thinking that they apply. For Katherine's host and uncle, Alec Campion, aka the Mad Duke Tremontaine, is in charge here—and to him, rules are made to be broken. When Alec decides it would be more amusing for his niece to learn swordplay than to follow the usual path to marriage, her world changes forever. Blade in hand, it's up to Katherine to navigate a maze of secrets and scoundrels and to gain the self-discovery that comes to those who master: the privilege of the sword.


The Privilege of the Sword contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Ascended Extra: Readers of Swordpoint probably won't remember the little serving girl at the tavern who used to admire Richard and Alec. She grew up to be the Black Rose.
  • Action Girl: The Privilege of the Sword is, to some extent, about Katherine learning to become one of these.
  • Bi the Way: Bisexuality is completely socially accepted in this world, and much of the cast is at least incidentally bisexual.
  • City of Adventure
  • City with No Name: Riverside is a district within the city, but the city itself is never named.
  • Demoted to Extra: Richard
  • Dragged into Drag: Done to Katherine on insistence of her uncle.
  • Fag Hag: The Ugly Girl is the only woman who manages to befriend (and get the better of) the notoriously gay Mad Duke.
  • First Kiss: Katherine gets hers from the beautiful actress the Black Rose.
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  • Impoverished Patrician: Her family's lack of money is the reason Katherine goes along with her uncle's ideas.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Riverside has a fair amount in common with the Southwark of Shakespeare's day (which was and is on the banks of the River Thames).
  • Rape as Drama: The Privilege of the Sword has an example which deals very respectfully with the subject.
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Katherine and Artemisia. They even write each other letters in the personae of the male/female romantic leads of their favorite novel.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Katherine gets mistaken for a boy by her teacher, due to wearing boy's clothes. He later reveals that he knew all along and that he only referred to her as a boy to demonstrate that her gender didn't matter to him.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Only after he disappears for good does the Black Rose realize that she's pregnant with Alec's child.
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  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Katherine, because her uncle insists she wears men's clothes (with the occasional foray into Sweet on Polly Oliver as she makes a very attractive boy).
  • Title Drop: "The privilege of the sword," as discussed in the book, is a privilege only available to men. There's some legal squabbling when Katherine takes up a sword to defend the honor of a female friend, the question being if a woman is legally allowed to defend her own honor with a sword or if she is simply a murderer.
  • Uke: The Mad Duke is into pretty young men.
  • Urban Fantasy
  • Urban Segregation: The nobles live on the hill, the poor in Riverside.


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