Audie Award Nominee, Multi-voiced Performance, 2013
Award-winning author, narrator, and screenwriter Neil Gaiman personally selected this book, and, using the tools of the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), cast the narrators and produced this work for his audiobook label, Neil Gaiman Presents.
The Privilege of the Sword tells the tale of a young girl who risks everything to go live with her eccentric, litigious - and extremely rich – uncle Alec in the colorful city Kushner has created, a city where elegant nobles can mingle with raffish actors one moment and deadly swordsmen the next. Fans of Kushner's first book, Swordspoint, will already be familiar with Alec as the angry young scholar with mysterious origins, living in the city’s Riverside district with a notorious killer swordsman. Now, in The Privilege of the Sword, some years later, Alec is the Mad Duke Tremontaine, living in a mansion on the Hill, still tortured by his past….
But you don’t need to have read Swordspoint to enjoy The Privilege of the Sword. This is the story of Katherine herself, a girl who starts out imagining her life will be a sort of Jane Austen-style romance, full of dances and dresses and parties - but finds that her iconoclastic uncle has other plans. When she gets to his house in the city, the Mad Duke dresses Lady Katherine in men's clothes, gets her a first-rate tutor in swordplay, and sets her loose on a traditional world that is not really ready for her…. Nor, at first, is she ready for it.
A few words from Neil on Privilege of the Sword: "Life hands us so many moments when we hover between who we were raised to be, who the people around us are trying to make us, and who we are trying to become. In Katherine's case, that means encountering a range of people and behaviors her mother never prepared her for - including some shocking acts of violence, both physical and emotional. As one of Kushner’s most charming characters, an actress known as 'The Black Rose', sighs, 'It's all so very difficult, until you get the hang of it.'"
In this exciting new "illuminated production", the author herself reads her own work, supported by a full cast. Author Ellen Kushner is also a popular performer and National Public Radio host (Sound & Spirit). As with her previous audiobooks, the award-winning Witches of Lublin and Swordspoint, Ellen teamed up with Sue Zizza of SueMedia Productions to illuminate certain key scenes with some truly stunning sound elements, including original music commissioned just for this book (!) by composer Nathaniel Tronerud. Ellen Kushner reads all of the first-person narration from Katherine’s own point of view. In scenes where an omniscient narrator takes over, we’ve called on the amazing talents of the award-winning actor Barbara Rosenblat, a woman who's been called "the Meryl Streep of audiodrama". The cast also features Joe Hurley (Alec Campion: the Mad Duke Tremontaine), Felicia Day (Katherine Talbert), Nick Sullivan (Lord Ferris; Arthur Ghent), Katherine Kellgren (Lady Artemesia Fitz-Levi; Teresa Grey; Flavia "the Ugly Girl"), and Neil Gaiman himself (Rogues' Ball Artist)! The artwork used here is an original painting and design by Thomas Canty created exclusively for the Neil Gaiman Presents audiobook edition of The Privilege of the Sword.
To hear more from Neil Gaiman on The Privilege of the Sword, click here, or listen to the introduction at the beginning of the book itself.
©2006 Ellen Kushner (P)2012 SueMedia Productions
"One of the most gorgeous books I've ever read: it's witty and wonderful, with characters that will provoke, charm, and delight." (Holly Black, coauthor of The Spiderwick Chronicles)
"Unholy fun, and wholly fun… and elegant riposte, dazzlingly executed." (Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked)
Ellen Kushner's "The Privilege of the Sword", an Austen-esque tale spiced with romance (and swordfights!) is a delight from start to finish.
Artemisia, a gently-reared young lady of the nobility, discovers to her shock that the process of Growing Up actually equates to "being marketed as a valuble commodity", and that she herself has no real say over the consummation of the deal. Katherine, fresh from the country, looks forward to a conventional coming-out, as befits her family's rank; however, her guardian in the City is the definitely un-conventional Mad Duke Tremontaine, and he has very different plans for her. In desperate straits, Mia finds in Katherine a lifeline, while Katherine views Mia's circumstances with horror, and finds herself feeling more than a little gratitude to her uncle for making sure she doesn't suffer similar circumstances.
Woven all around this is Kushner's rich tapestry of Riverside and the Hill, the Mad Duke Tremontaine and his outrageous antics, a delightful cast of supporting characters (Lord Michael Godwin and his lady, Rosamund, are a particular delight), and of course, Tremontaine's love for the swordsman St Vier at the heart of it all.
If you are a fan of Ellen Kushner's books, you already know all that! So let me speak now specifically about the audiobook version.
The presentation as an "illuminated audiobook" is a delight from beginning to end. Ellen Kushner as Katherine's first-person narrator, and Barbara Rosenblat as the Narrator, are perfectly droll. Felicia Day's Katherine is as fresh and vibrant as any fifteen-year-old you might know. Katherine Kellgren reads a variety of female parts, each of them distinct and amusing, while Nick Sullivan, who we loved to hate as Lord Ferris in the "Swordspoint" audiobook, reprises that role here, even more wonderfully despicable. Joe Hurley's Tremontaine is deliciously decadent-sounding. (If you're a TPOTS fan, and you're wondering, Ellen Kushner narrates the well-loved "Highcombe" scene. It's heartrending.)
A particularly enjoyable aspect of the "illuminated audiobook" is Nate Tronerud's original soundtrack music (which also incorporates some of his well-loved themes from the "Swordspoint" audiobook. Although we only get to hear bits and pieces, each theme is unique and memorable, perfectly highlighting character and mood.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Imagine Jane Austen teaming up with Oscar Wilde to write a historical fantasy featuring class, gender, identity, sexuality, swords, and acting (and the pursuit of single-life rather than marriage), and you catch a glimpse of Ellen Kushner's "mannerpunk" novel The Privilege of the Sword (2006).
The novel is (partly) the coming of age story of Katherine Talbert, a plucky, good-natured, and innocent fifteen-year-old daughter of a country aristocrat family in financial straits. As the action begins, the wealthy and eccentric Duke Tremontaine, AKA the Mad Duke of Riverside (his residence in the bad part of town near the docks), has written to say that if his sister will send his niece Katherine to live with him in the city for six months according to his rules, he will pay all her family's debts. Katherine wants to see the big city and envisions making a stunning appearance at fashionable balls in fine new dresses. Contrary to her expectations, though, Uncle Alec has all of her dresses removed, forces her to wear the clothes of a young man, and makes her take sword lessons from a grizzled master swordsman who calls her, "Duke boy."
The Privilege of the Sword has no supernatural events or magic, no elves or wizards, and no epic wars between good and evil. It is a fantasy by virtue of its well-imagined secondary world, a pseudo Elizabethan or Jacobean place in which the nobility has expunged kings but still lives off the labor of their "tenants," in which people drink chocolate, brandy, and wine and smoke drugs, in which in addition to aristocrats there are poets, scholars, actors, merchants, pickpockets, and prostitutes, and in which the nobles wield the privilege of the sword, the right to decide their feuds by hiring professional swordsmen to duel matters out.
Among the many themes interestingly worked out by The Privilege of the Sword is the difficult but vital need for women to become independent and free to express their true selves in a male-oriented world. The gadfly Duke wants to transform his niece into a swordsman to free her from the usual fate of upper class women, who typically end up having to marry philandering and or abusive husbands. One of the refreshing things about the novel is that Katherine never attempts to hide her gender when she's dressing up in guys' clothes and sporting her sword and dagger. And Kushner writes other interesting female characters who are trying to get by in that man's world, like the Black Rose, a charismatic actress, and Teresa Grey, a "woman of quality" who secretly writes popular plays for the theater.
In addition to gender themes, Kushner expresses an open-minded view of sexuality. Katherine, for example, is attracted to both the Black Rose and to Alec's servant-ward Marcus, and another of the compelling developments in the novel is the frank and humorous awakening of her sexual self. And readers familiar with Kushner's first Riverside novel, Swordspoint (1987), will recall the romantic love between Alec and the master swordsman Richard St. Vier, which The Privilege of the Sword develops eighteen years after the events of the earlier book.
Kushner also writes interesting themes relating to identity and acting. Katherine reads a sensational romantic novel, The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death, watches a play based on it, and begins thinking of her own actions and those of her friend Artemisia Fitz-Levy in terms of the characters and the actors portraying them. Lucius Perry, a handsome young nobleman, plays different roles as male prostitute, heterosexual lover, faithful cousin, and noble scion. And to what degree does the Duke feign his "madness" to discomfit his peers? The line between acting and being one's true self is blurry, and not just for professional actors.
At times I tired of Katherine's superficial and hysterical aristo friend Artemisia ("The only time I pick up a book is to throw it at my maid" is her best line), and the climactic showdown between Lord Ferris and Duke Alec discomforted me, but I found the resolution of the story delightful and still continue to savor Kushner's characters.
I had a great time listening to the audiobook version of The Privilege of the Sword.
I really like Kushner's reading of the first person chapters narrated from the voice of Katherine (spunky and clear) and Barbara Rosenblat's reading of the third person narration of the other chapters (husky and androgynous), and the different audiobook "luminaries" who read the voices of the different characters in the "illuminated" sections (specially important or intense scenes). I especially enjoyed Joe Hurly's decadent drawl as the Mad Duke, sounding like Oscar Wilde bathing in a hot tub full of turquoise absinthe.
I have mixed feelings about the occasional sound effects sprinkled throughout the audiobook, door knockings, paper rustlings, owl hootings, boot clackings, sword clangings, and so on. Often these are implied or directly mentioned by the text, as when the narration mentions how Katherine’s sword "rattled and clanged," and we hear the sound effect of a sword rattling and clanging. Even moments like when the narration says someone leaves a room and we hear the sound of a door closing, which at least are not redundant, felt more intrusive than immersive. On the other hand, the music beautifully and appropriately enhances the moods of the various scenes, and is more appealing and original than the majority of movie music these days.
In conclusion, fans of Swordspoint would love The Privilege of the Sword, and anyone interested in fantasy that focuses on social customs, psychological conflicts, and witty dialogue should enjoy it.
I would recommend both books in this series. They are fairy tales with adult themes, a vividly drawn world and the absolute best audio production ever. Neil Gaiman has put together the most outstanding team to produce this book which is actually read by the author and former radio host, Ellen Kushner.
The audio production uses multiple voices and sound effects. The various voices slide into the narration without interrupting the flow of the story adding a rich, vibrant texture to the story. The sound effects are not as seamless but that is as it should be since they are used to show the transitions in the narrative. This production is the gold standard by which I will judge all future multi-voice narrations. I am afraid most will fall far short.
Ellen Kushner knows her archetypes and plays with them beautifully. Although set in a time of swords, carriages and masked balls, her heroine meets challenges and grows in very modern ways. Her guide through this process is her uncle, the Mad Duke. With benign neglect, he offers her an unorthodox upbringing in his chaotic world.
Her themes are too adult for kids or I would have shared this with my granddaughter on a recent road trip. I would have loved to introduce her to the heroine. I will recommend this to my friends who love an off beat fairy tale and an outstanding audio experience.
I'm a big fan of SF/F/Horror, and all things in between and out.
I have a serious complaint about Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword: it ended. I could’ve happily listened to 100 more hours of Katherine’s Tom Joad-esque mythology as a swordswoman for the disenfranchised and disempowered. But look, I'm getting ahead of myself. But look again, this book is such a delight!
The Privilege of the Sword is a sequel of sorts to Swordspoint, but you need not listen to Swordspoint to enjoy this book. The story is this: Alec Campion, the Mad Duke of Tremontaine, invites his niece to come live with him in the city for six months and take up sword lessons. Katherine, his niece, thinks it’s just an eccentricity of the Mad Duke’s, and expects she’ll spend much of her time dressing up for balls and falling in love.
Kushner creates an incredible supporting cast – including the standout Artemisia, another young woman Katherine’s age – who initially seems like she might become Katherine’s bosom friend, but instead becomes her foil. Artemisia gets the life Katherine thought she wanted – the dresses, the balls, and the suitors, but as she plays out her role in society, she soon finds herself trapped by everyone she thought she loved. Meanwhile, Katherine is trapped training as swordsman and bodyguard, a job only men are generally allowed to perform. But with this more masculine job, she’s given more opportunity to make her own choices. Chief among these is saving Artemisia’s honor, and then defending it. The rest of the supporting characters are great too – from Lucius Perry’s relationship with his mysterious mistress to Marcus – Alec’s servant. They all feel like real characters, with real depths and desires, and I didn’t want to stop spending time with them.
Kushner also weaves in “The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death,” a story within the story (as well as a play). Katherine and Artemisia write letters to each other, signing their names as characters to the play – Katherine as the swordsman, Artemisia as the damsel, adding a delicious extra layer of subtext. This story is as much Katherine's coming of age and beginning to understand her desires, as it is a swashbuckling romance.
Both Kushner and Barbara Rosenblat narrate the novel to perfection – Kushner reads the passages that are told from Katherine’s perspective, and Rosenblat reads those from the other characters. They are supported by an illuminated cast, and I think this is the best cast of the Riverside stories. Felicia Day (who unfortunately doesn’t get quite as much time as one would hope) voices Katherine, and shines whenever she's reading. But the absolute stunner is Joe Hurley, who completely captures the Mad Duke of Tremontaine’s drunken, hedonistic, washed-out rock star voice, a wild voice that’s hiding a beautiful soul beneath. Kushner really rounded out Alec’s character in this book, and Hurley is impossible not to love in the role. When he’s verbally sparring with Nick Sullivan’s villainous Lord Ferris, sparks fly. I could listen to them arguing with each other for hours with Kushner’s barbed dialogue. Neil Gaiman’s cameo as a wild artist is an additional delight.
The Privilege of the Sword is just about everything you could ask for in a novel – it’s exciting, funny, sexy, and one of the most fun audiobooks I’ve listened to all year. It’s an empowering story that subverts a lot of society’s gender roles, and it’s also incredibly fun. If this is being preached at, I want to go to church every Sunday, and then every other day of the week too.
(Originally published at the AudioBookaneers)
I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!
Originally post at FanLit.
“Whatever the duke means to do with her, it can’t be anything decent.”
The Privilege of the Sword is Ellen Kushner’s sequel to her novel Swordspoint which was about the doings of the high and low societies in her fictional town of Riverside. The main characters of that novel were the nobleman Alec Tremontaine, a student, and his lover, the famous swordsman Richard St. Vier. You don’t need to read Swordspoint before reading The Privilege of the Sword, but it will probably be more enjoyable if you do because you’ll have some background on most of the characters.
Now Alec is known as the Mad Duke Tremontaine. He spends some of his time in his mansion outside the city, but he really prefers to reside in his house in Riverside where the common people live. The Mad Duke is known for being rapacious and decadent. Yet when he asks his estranged sister to send her 15-year-old daughter Katherine to him, Katherine must go because Alec controls the family fortune.
When Katherine goes to live with her mad uncle, she envisions beautiful new gowns, exciting balls, and gallant suitors. And indeed that’s probably what she would have gotten if this story hadn’t been written by Ellen Kushner. A sweet romantic fantasy isn’t what Kushner had in mind, however (though there is sweetness and romance). Instead, the Mad Duke dresses Katherine like a boy and makes her take swordfighting lessons. She hates this at first, but later she learns that her skills are quite useful for carrying out her romantic schemes. Even later it becomes clear that there’s a method to her uncle’s madness.
Katherine is a delightful character. At the beginning she’s a sweet romantic girl with starry visions and high hopes, but her innocence is challenged when she joins the lascivious duke’s household. She’s forced to grow over the course of the novel and she learns about friendship, honor, and her own (and other people’s) sexuality. Katherine’s friendship with Marcus, a boy who works for the duke, is sweet. However, her friendship with the noblewoman Artemesia, which drives the plot in the second half of the novel, is hard to believe in since two girls hardly know each other. I did like, however, how they were bound together by the romantic admiration for the same book.
Alec is even more unlikeable in The Privilege of the Sword than he was in Swordspoint, but Kushner provides us with more of his backstory in this novel and he at least becomes a little more sympathetic. By the end I had decided that maybe I liked him after all. He has no respect for the rules of his society and it’s hard not to admire him for that. Readers of Swordspoint will also be interested to see what became of the famous swordsman Richard St. Vier.
The plot of The Privilege of the Sword is “lite” and a bit muddled. I found it somewhat dull at first, but it picks up eventually when the political intrigue starts and there’s a mystery for Katherine and Marcus to solve. The story isn’t particularly memorable, but it’s mostly amusing, unpredictable, and mercifully avoids all fantasy clichés. Most notably, it examines gender and sexuality issues in a way that has so far been unusual in fantasy literature. (Though I hesitate to call this novel a fantasy since its only fantastical element is the totally made-up setting.) Most of the characters are exploring their sexuality (which is both homosexual and heterosexual and gets rather decadent in parts) and this, in my opinion, affects the plot negatively. In other words, it could be argued that the book is more about sex than it is about story.
I listened to the audio version of The Privilege of the Sword which was produced by Neil Gaiman Presents and expertly narrated by Ellen Kushner and a full cast. Neil Gaiman and actress Felicia Day make vocal appearances. This is a good way to read The Privilege of the Sword.
Neil Gaiman productions are always a delight and this one was right on the money! The characters voices were perfect and the Duke especially stole the show! The reading added such depth to the character that I probably would have missed had I read the book myself. I have not read the first book in the series but did not feel that it made any difference. The story and characters were complete without prior knowledge of them. It has, however, made want to find the first book to learn about the Dukes younger years and how he came to be the fascinating character that he is!
The duke. I could just picture him lounging and appearing disinterested but always thinking behind the facade!
I can't praise it enough! It is one that I would listen to again and I NEVER listen to books over again! I can't wait for the next one!
I've not listened to very many audiobooks, but it is definitely a great one.
The story is great - strong female character defying gender stereotypes - not entirely genre, but alt-universe. Swordfighting, political intrigue and great romance.
Fantastic narration all around - made that much better during party scenes when additional voices were added to the mix. The author is fantastic, but the breadth of emotion and the different speaking styles of the additional actors really created a deeper world. Barbara Rosenblatt was terrific.
I laughed out loud a few times and got misty eyed as well. It's touching and amusing.
Definitely a treat. Have to thank Neil Gaiman Presents for turning me on to a new author - and with such panache.
Very very near the top. Really excellent performances added to the greatness of the book.
The ratio of romance to political intrigue was just perfect for me. I wish I could have read this book when I was fourteen, even though great gusts of it would have blown right over my head.
I don't think I have a favourite - I liked them all. Though I really like the way Ellen Kushner does Alec's voice. Loved the actress who played Artemisia too! She had just the right balance of girlish melodrama and sincerity.
When Alec goes to Haikum (spelling?). The buildup to it was so great and it really helped cement Tremontaine's motivations throughout the book.
Third book please?? Fourth? Fifth?
Oddly enough, I haven't read the paper version. I somehow managed to not know that "Swordspoint" , one of my favorite books, had two sequels. These days I spend unreasonable amounts of time in my car commuting back and forth to work, so most of my reading is now via audio. So - this audio is my "first read".
The obvious comparison is the original book in the series "Swordspoint". A wonderful mix of intrigue, and love that has no problem speaking its name.
Of course - it would be very hard to read it on paper while driving - but in all seriousness I could listen to Ms. Kushner read eternally. I also really enjoyed the occasional (but never overdone) use of sound effects.
Sorry - can't reveal w/o giving a spoiler - but yes, there were a few of those when I found myself getting a little moist around the eyes.
A very good sequel to "Swordspoint" - almost as perfect (my only quibble with this one was that the ending seemed a little rushed in comparison). Well- acted and well-cadenced narration make for an audiobook that found me making excuses to take more long walks - I wanted to keep listening to it without seeming rude to those at home.
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, historical fiction, mystery, thrillers with sarcasm are my favorites with some Romance thrown in for fun.
This was a wonderful audio experience and a very enjoyable storyline with a good sense of HUMOR.
It was fun to see the growth of Katherine, the female lead, as she went from utter horror about being made to wear men’s clothing and learn to duel to total comfort and eagerness. The other characters in the story were brought to life brilliantly and the listener was given more than hints as to their past.
The ending was brilliant.
"Teenage swordswoman loose in Riverside"
It's just occurred to me that these books: Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword, The Fall of the Kings, would make a great TV series. It's such a fully realized world with lots of intrigue and fascinatingly amoral characters.
As ever, it's crucial to read the books in the right order. However, I think this is my favourite of the three. Maybe it's that I found Catherine, blundering naively around Riverside, making unsuitable challenges as she goes, really charming.
Ellen Kushner is a great narrator and I enjoy the dramatic scenes and music very much.
I loved this long-awaited audio book. Katherine's voice is delightful - so innocent and excited at the beginning of the story, and developing into a much more mature viewpoint as the narrator grows up. Joe Hurley is terrific as the dissolute 'Mad Duke', and captures his lazy, drawling voice (and his abject misery) well.
The scenes with Katherine and Marcus as intrepid investigators are great, and I love their rivalry: 'Marcus, you rat!'
The 'enhanced' sections of the book are wonderful, and really bring the cast of characters to life.
"A good follow up to the first of the series"
The quality of the reading and production, the style, and the story are all in line with what you would expect from the first book of the series. I found it entertaining, and some of the characters are very appealing. The incompatibility of the expectations of a naive country girl from a good family, and the depraved and corrupt 'realities' of political and sophisticated urban society is nicely handled. Although some of the events and plots lines do not have that feel of plausibility, the story is nevertheless good enough to keep you listening.
I strongly suggest reading the first of the series before this one.
"Some good performances, story is mediocre"
Was predictable, there were many holes in the plot or leads that you wanted to chase up.
Reminds me of this romantic Bryonic era, hedonistic, the Duke Tremontaine is a delightfully intriguing character.interesting exploration of human sexuality and a girl's coming of age journey.
Felt it could have delved into Lady Kathryn's character developmentthe sound effects did not enhance the listening experience.
I felt the story could have just been narrated by one person would have been easier to follow
"Interesting and unexpected"
Intriguing characters set in a complete and believable world. It was a delight to listen too - being a fan of fantasy I found it refreshing to come across a book like this as it is very different to anything I've read or listened to before. The narration is great, with occasion scenes being acted out by different people which gives a bit of variety and adds depth to the story. I would say though that even though this story stands alone, I think it would be better to read the first one before this one as it gives away some key points of the first story. Having listened to them both in the 'wrong' order I think the first one would be more enjoyable if you had no idea of where the story was going, but they are both excellent.
"Excellent in every way"
I don't think I've ever read (or listened to) non-magical fantasy before, and it made a refreshing change of pace. I'm quite sure I haven't listened to a book read by the author before either, and that was an interesting experience. Nobody knows the book and its characters better than the writer, so unlike some readings I didn't question the interpretation of some phrases as I might otherwise.
The story itself is delightful, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
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