“The Privilege of the Sword” is part of Ellen Kushner’s Riverside stories and is a fun read. Kushner makes this whole world believable. It’s a fantasy book without magic or supernatural creatures. Instead we get a novel set in a time where women were commodities to be bought and sold for money and land.
Katherine, our main character, is sold to her uncle to pay her family’s debts. Her uncle is the decadent Mad Duke Tremontaine, and his plans for his niece do not follow conventional rules. Independence and the ability to defend herself are qualities that he aims to knock into her through sword lessons. Maybe not what Katherine had in mind, but she buckles up and does her best to uphold the agreement that was made between her mother and her uncle.
So, why is this book so good. One reason is that the characters of Katherine and Mad Duke are three-dimensional. Another is the humor and action that fills the novel. The Privilege of the Sword flows somewhere between peaceful and tempestuous.