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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:

  • Almighty Janitor: Marcus for the Duke Tremontaine. Alec doesn't even remember who he invites to parties or where he puts his pen and ink half the time.
  • The Apprentice: Katherine, to both her uncle and the famous swordsman Richard St. Vier.
  • 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.
  • The Champion: Katherine is being trained to become the personal swordsman to her uncle, Duke Tremontaine.
  • City of Adventure
  • City with No Name: Riverside is a district within the city, but the city itself is never named.
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  • The Clan: Tremontaine. Was the Big, Screwed-Up Family under Diane, but Alec, Katherine and Marcus bring them towards this trope, which the Tremontaine's continue under Katherine in The Fall of the Kings.
  • Demoted to Extra: Richard
  • Declaration of Protection: Katherine's consists of her mother, her uncle and Marcus. A large portion of the novel deals with Katherine adding Artemesia to this circle, due to the fact that no one else will avenge what Lord Ferris did to her.
  • Dragged into Drag: Done to Katherine on insistence of her uncle.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Alec to Katherine
  • 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.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Her family's lack of money is the reason Katherine goes along with her uncle's ideas.
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  • Like Father, Like Son: Katherine shares many similarities with her uncle, Alec Campion. Marcus, the Duke's adopted son, is very like him in some respects as well.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Ferris thinks he is this, but Alec Campion, Duke Tremontaine, is a better one.
  • The Mentor: Richard St. Vier for Katherine.
  • 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).
  • One True Love: Richard St. Vier for Alec Campion.
  • Parental Substitute: Alec to Katherine, whose father was distant and died when she was young, and whose mother acts less like a parent and more like the child in their relations. And Marcus, who he essentially adopts.
  • 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.
  • Show Within a Show: The Swordsman Whose Name is not Death, which is read by both Katherine and Artemesia, and performed in Riverside with the Black Rose as Lady Stella during the course of the story.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Only after he disappears for good does the Black Rose realize that she's pregnant with Alec's child.
  • Spanner in the Works: Katherine, intentionally to Ferris and unintentionally to her uncle, which eventually leads to the Duke fleeing into exile.
  • 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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