I finally got around to reading this one after reading review after glowing review by a host of well-known authors, among them Tamora Pierce, Neil Gaiman, and Holly Black. The Privilege of the Sword is indeed high, swashbuckling fantasy that reads like a cross between Georgette Heyer and Guy Gavriel Kay. And for the first half of the book, I really enjoyed it.
Katherine is a very nice young noblewoman from the country. When her uncle, the Mad Duke, offers to raise her family out of impending poverty in exchange for Katherine coming to live with him in the city and training as a swordswoman, she doesn't even think about it twice. To save her family (and perhaps make a good marriage in town), Katherine jumps at the chance. Trouble is, her uncle really does appear to be "mad" and, in lieu of joining him in his bouts of debauchery and midnight carousing, Katherine is left to fend for herself. After her initial horror at wearing men's clothes, she surprises herself by taking to the art of sword fighting quite quickly. The duke's faithful servant Marcus takes her under his wing as well. The two of them quickly become friends and partners in their secret quest to find out just what the devil the duke and his secret, highborn visitors are up to.
Its rich, heady atmosphere and fast pace are the story's strong points. And the Mad Duke Tremontaine is priceless. I never did grow very close to Katherine, though. And her developing relationship with Marcus seemed forced, as though they got together for lack of having anyone better around. I didn't buy that they really cared that much for each other. I did buy that they both cared about the duke, and with good reason. I wanted more on his character and the machinations of his Hamlet-style, mad north-north-west mind. The story felt like it wanted to go in so many different directions, and explore so many characters at once, but didn't have the necessary space nor sanity to do so, that it was hard to care about the characters you wanted to. I enjoyed it for the most part. I just wish it had stayed in one place long enough for me to really fall in love.
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