Pretty girl with a sword (and spurs for some reason)Sequel of sorts to Kushner’s Swordspoint, though Becky read this without having read that and managed just fine. As the book opens, our heroine Katherine is learning that in order to settle a lawsuit that is crippling her family she must go to the city (unnamed as in the other books set there, but fans (and the author) have taken to calling it Riverside) and, train as a sword fighter in the house of her uncle, the Mad Duke Tremontaine. Got that?

Katherine is mostly excited by the prospect of going to the city at first, but as she learns just how serious the Duke is about the sword fighting, things become much more ambiguous for her. She does manage to make a friend as soon as she arrives in the person of Lady Artemisia Fitz-Levi. But they are soon divided and Lady Fitz-Levi has complications of her own to deal with as we see in a parallel narrative thread.

Despite the other story lines, the book is primarily the tale of Katherine’s coming of age. She starts changing on the first page of the book and keeps on refining herself all the way to the end. What makes the book irresistible is that nearly every other character in it is busy going through their own changes at the same time. I can’t recall ever reading a book where so many essentially minor characters were so well drawn and given their own little arcs to follow.

This richness of characterization includes the character of the city itself which Kushner clearly adores. The city and its culture are similar to the typical fantasy setting, but Kusher manages to distinguish it well enough that what would be anachronisticly modern attitudes instead seem perfectly natural. In particular, this society has virtually no stigma on sexual relationships between members of the same gender. And while that is a significant factor in the lives of a number of the characters, I just drew more attention to the fact with that sentence than Kushner does in the whole book.

If I have a gripe with the book at all (and I barely do), it is that Kushner perhaps loves her characters a bit too much and so their trials are resolved, if not painlessly, then with somewhat implausible neatness.