"A nobleman of the city brought your poetry's virtue into question — 'Duller than a rainy Tuesday and twice as long' was the way you put it, Bernhard, I believe? A challenge was issued. There was a duel, and the swordsman defending the honor of your verse was defeated."Swordspoint: my previous review of The Privilege of the Sword, from 2006, is here. That review gives a good summary of the plot: Katherine Talbert goes to stay with the Mad Duke, who is Alec from Swordspoint; is taught sword-fighting by the Duke's reclusive friend; uses her new-found martial skills to avenge a female friend's honour, and her increasing confidence and independence to begin to make her own choices.
"But — one man sticking another with a sword cannot change my poetry from good to bad just like that."
"The duel is the ultimate arbiter of truth. Where men's judgment may be called into question, the opinion of the sword always holds fast." [p. 100]
Rereading this time around, I found myself noticing the feminist aspects of the novel. Katherine is scornful of the swordsmaster who suggests she might be frightened by the mess and blood of a sword fight: "I am not afraid. I see twice as much blood every month". She dislikes the masculine clothing the Duke asks her to wear, because it shows her body more than she likes. She becomes profoundly aware of the ways in which her society treats women as second-class citizens.
I'm also much more aware of structural and narrative techniques than when I first read The Privilege of the Sword. We see Alec and Richard from an outsider's viewpoint: the great romance of Swordspoint, and how time and society have warped it, and what remains true. Alec, here, has matured into something glittering and powerful and, to be honest, not always very happy: Richard has undergone other changes, but is less altered by them. And I did feel that Alec, for all his delight in affronting society, was not nearly as subversive as his niece Katherine.
Onwards to the third novel in the sequence, The Fall of the Kings: I had never read them in sequence, or without intervening distractions, before ...