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Publisher's Summary

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.

Learn more about Neil Gaiman Presents and Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX).

©2006 Ellen Kushner (P)2012 SueMedia Productions

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
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  • Story

Great story, wonderful performance

The mannered and bloody world of Riverside & the City is escapism at its finest, with nice dose of human insight humming along below the surface.

Building on that foundation, what really takes these stories over the top is the production. The voice acting is stellar and perfectly cast, the characters vibrant and compelling, the background audio engrossing without being distracting. It's an all around wonderful listen, and never fails to pull me into Kushner's world. I love it.

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Not bad, but missing some pieces.

Would you try another book from Ellen Kushner and/or the narrators?

The book was decent, and Barbara Rosenblat and the supporting cast were fantastic. But Ellen Kushner shouldn't be reading her own stuff. More on that below. Mostly, it was fine. But not all that memorable. Neil Gaiman owes me an Audible credit.

Would you recommend The Privilege of the Sword to your friends? Why or why not?

Not at all.

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

As I said, Ellen Kushner shouldn't be reading her own stuff. In this instance, she sounds way too old to narrate the character of a 16 year old girl. And she makes the classic amateur actor's mistake of emphasizing pronouns all over the place. Which ultimately made her sound like Amanda in a bad community theater production of "The Glass Menagerie."Honestly, though, I blame whomever directed this audiobook. That one simple correction would have vastly improved the performance.Still, she's not an actor. She would have done better letting the pros do their job. The difference is pretty striking.

Do you think The Privilege of the Sword needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

No. It wraps things up in a pretty tidy way, and it's not really compelling enough to go back and revisit the characters.

Any additional comments?

It's an ok book, but it pulls its punches at the end in a pretty major way.

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Very Slow Developing - Couldn't finish.

Would you try another book from Ellen Kushner and/or the narrators?

I doubt it for the author but I probably would for the narrator.

What could Ellen Kushner have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

It was extremely slow paced in development. I might have given up for the exciting parts started. Seemed like the same old thing all the time.

What aspect of the narrators’s performance would you have changed?

No changes

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Privilege of the Sword?

About 50 percent of the first third. I didn't/couldn't finish the book so I do not know which elements were critical for the overall story. I might have shortened a few with only the critical parts left.

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  • Alison
  • Brinston, ONTARIO, Canada
  • 12-22-14

more flawed than the first with none of the charm

After the book is over, the author talks a bit about writing it and says that it took her a long time to write this book and she started and put it down quite a bit. It shows. The book tries to recapture the plotting and charming romance of the first but really can't pull it off.

The plot is even more disjointed and incomplete than the first book. There are huge plot problems, like the super abrupt ending to the big conflict, and the complete irrelevance of Lucius and his lover to the entire plot. There are small plot problems, like why does Katherine think she's such good friends with Artemesia that she ought to leap to Artemesia's defense when they've only met twice and one of the times Artemesia laughed at her and won't answer any of her letters?

I suppose it's supposed to be a 'tapestry' that shows all the things that go on in Riverside, but it just wasn't my thing. It seemed like just a list of all the ways women are oppressed in the city. I just wanted more.

Leaving aside my general dislike of the whole multi-narrator premise, the production on this wasn't very good. The narration was so quiet I had to turn up the volume as loud as it would go, only to be frequently deafened by the stupid 'sword' sounds which marked breaks in the chapters. There are good narrators out there who can 'whisper' what characters say without actually lowering their voices to an indecipherable level.

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  • Vegan Guy
  • Herndon, VA United States
  • 11-30-14

Bad Choice for performers

What would have made The Privilege of the Sword better?

Choosing a different narrator

Has The Privilege of the Sword turned you off from other books in this genre?

Audio Performance

What didn’t you like about the narrators’s performance?

They had what sounded like a 50 year old woman voice the narrator who was in her teens. Did not match well.

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  • Story

Sword play, coming of age, gender roles

What made the experience of listening to The Privilege of the Sword the most enjoyable?

Great characters, and interestingly written. I liked the use of multiple narrators and voices. The only time it became weird for me was when the main character suddenly had a different voice.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Katherine and St. Vier. Katherine, grew to realize the independence and freedom of having the ability to defend herself and fight her own battles. But was still free to be the Lady she wanted to be. It was interesting watching how she came to see how helpless her friend was, and how she could right those wrongs.St. Vier, was still the unbending single minded master of the sword. No matter what, if he has the ability, he will practice with the sword. He was one of those types with a single focus in life. To be the best with the sword he could be.

Which scene was your favorite?

Katherine's Duels. Ellen shows a better understanding of the Fencing type swordplay she talks about in this novel. Made me want to start fencing again.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Sure, but I don't have that much time. Though, it was nice to savor it. Sometimes when I get towards the end of a good book I almost want to stop.

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A charming and insightful tale

This is so much more than a coming-of-age story. It is that, definitely, but interwoven alongside the tale of a young girl's discovery of her identity are beautiful and profound explorations of the nature of love, honour, beauty, friendship, happiness and gender. Ellen Kushner plays a delightful game with all of these concepts, and the listener can't help but wonder what they all really mean.

The narration is just spectacular. Barbara Rosenblat's deep, purring murmur seductively draws you into the Riverside world, and Ellen Kushner's own mocking drawl is the perfect counterpoint. At times I wished there was a little more Rosenblat and a little less Kushner, but it's kind of a privilege to know that one is hearing the characters speaking EXACTLY as the author intended them to.

I never thought listening to a young girl's first person narrative would be so enthralling. And don't let that factual description fool you - this book DEFINITELY doesn't belong in the young adult category.

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Disappointing and not what I expected

What disappointed you about The Privilege of the Sword?

The reviews said this would be like Jane Austen from the perspective of varied gender roles. Instead I got to hear a prepubescent girl learn about sex.

Has The Privilege of the Sword turned you off from other books in this genre?

Yes; I'm not sure if I can trust reviews by Neil Gaiman any more.

What character would you cut from The Privilege of the Sword?

I would cut out some of the side characters, like the actress the Black Rose. I found her unbelievable and unnecessary.

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Narrated by Betty White and Peter O'Toole

Would you listen to The Privilege of the Sword again? Why?

Enjoyed listening to this nicely character driven story; however, the ensemble performance left something to be desired. I felt that the changing voices (based on perspective) distracted from the story. The voice of Katherine by Ellen Kushner sounds exactly like Betty White, who I then visualized as Katherine every time! And then there was the over the top Mad Duke/Peter O'Toole voice that I just wanted to strangle the narrator (no offense). Overall, though, a good story despite the narration at points.

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  • patmos
  • Upstate New York
  • 05-01-14

Just not for me

I bought this because I like Neil Geiman. And I could see this being a great Sandman-style graphic novel. However, just listening to it was a little confusing with the many characters. Sorry, it's not you. It's me.