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review 2017-06-13 01:57
Perils of Privilege
The Perils of "Privilege": Why Injustice Can't Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage - Phoebe Maltz Bovy

 

 

I received this book as a free ARC from NetGalley.  This will not prevent me from writing an honest review.

 

For several years now, it has been common for comments to online articles and blog posts to call out the author and/or subject to "check your privilege" or to be notified that "your privilege is showing."  In response, many writers include a list of privilege-acknowledging disclaimers to preempt such reactions.  The privilege framework plays out in higher education and politics as well.  Phoebe Maltz Bovy contends that the call-outs and self-policing are counter-productive.  Far from improving inequities, they help distract from addressing valid issues.  While writers and thinkers are busy acknowledging that there exist people with fewer advantages than they have, the most advantaged people are continuing to enjoy all of the benefits that come with that status.

 

As Bovy suggests, when something that should be a basic right for everyone is framed as a privilege that not everyone can have, it's not productive to call out people who have that "privilege," as if it's something no one should have.  Instead, the question would be how to ensure everyone's rights are defended.

 

Bovy is careful to point out that the book isn't a crank piece designed to ridicule people examining questions of privilege.  Instead she suggests there have been over reaches; take a step back without a return to earlier obliviousness.  

 

I think this book could serve as a useful tool for moving beyond what can be a stalemate, to start moving the conversations along when considering social inequities.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-08-02 19:57
The Privilege of the Sword - Ellen Kushner
The Privilege of the Sword - Ellen Kushner

It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me that the previous book in these series (Swordspoint) is one of my favourite books, one of the ones that I come back to and re-read on a regular basis. It was one of the first books I came across within the SFF genre that had a relationship between two men at the heart of it and, while it's not perfect by any means, I love the whole setting as well. 

 

The Privilege of the Sword is set about 20 years later, so whereas Alec was an itinerant scholar in Swordspoint, here he's now the (Mad) Duke Tremontaine and pretty much free to do whatever he wants because he has both the money and power to do so. In payment for an old debt within the family, Alec decides that his teenage niece will come to the city and train as a duellist. Initially Katherine is resistant, but soon throws herself into the scheme and finds herself also in the middle of intrigue involving both her uncle and others. In particular, one of Katherine's few friends initially accepts a good marriage proposal only to discover that her intended is a scumbag who takes advantage of her naivete, which insult Katherine then takes on herself to avenge. 

 

Overall, I really liked The Privilege of the Sword and, as with the previous book, the world in which it was set - Alec is very much the ruler of Riverside now, someone who everyone looks up to regardless of his supposed craziness. What probably stops me from giving this book 5 stars is the relationship between Alec and Richard, which had been the heart of the previous book, only for Alec to be getting up to all sorts of things with other people. What would have worked better for me would have been if everyone thought Alec was terribly licentious but actually wasn't, because I really felt for Richard - that investment for me in their relationship I have because of my love for Swordspoint meant this was much harder to swallow than might otherwise have been the case. 

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text 2016-08-01 09:18
Books read (or not!) in July
The Thousand Names - Django Wexler
This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity) - Victoria Schwab
Not Before Sundown - Herbert Lomas,Johanna Sinisalo
Ninefox Gambit - Yoon Ha Lee
Bloodshot - Cherie Priest
The Rabbit Back Literature Society - Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen,Lola M. Rogers
The Dead of Winter - Lee Collins
The Privilege of the Sword - Ellen Kushner

Books started: 11 (including the 2 I'm currently reading)

Books finished: 8

Books not finished: 1

 

Genre: Stretching the limits a little, but still all SFF. 

 

What progress on Mount TBR? Got rid of a few and only added a couple, though I'd hoped to get more read this month than proved to be the case. 

 

Book of the month: An easy decision this time around, a clear win for Ninefox Gambit though with an honourable mention to The Privilege of the Sword, which I also enjoyed immensely.

 

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review 2016-07-17 00:00
The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories
The Visiting Privilege: New and Collecte... The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories - Joy Williams In this remarkable collection, Joy Williams breaks all the rules: abrupt time shifts, inconsistent points of view, unfinished vignettes, you name it. The stories are nearly all intimate familial scenes that are simultaneously busy and cacophonous: characters talking at cross purposes, little fits of imperfectly explained laughter, hopeless oddballs, insufferable children, parents awkwardly dying. Frequently set in Maine and Florida, the characters are adrift, loosed from one home and not yet found a place in another, abandoned by loved ones, carried along by outside forces and unable to find a foothold to root themselves. Somehow, across dozens of tales, Williams manages to draw sympathetic and distinct characters who are -- even when insufferable -- oddly appealing.
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review 2016-03-01 03:48
The Privilege of the Sword
The Privilege of the Sword - Ellen Kushner

Be honest: have you ever fantasized about your previously unknown, aristocratic, super-duper-wacky-cool uncle taking you, his niece, under his wing and teaching you swordplay? And using the subsequent skills to defend yourself and your friends from the villainous creeps of the world?

Your secret dream will come true for the four precious hours your face is stuck to the pages of this book.

Initially, I was enticed by the thrilling synopsis and the promise of a teenage girl's sword-slashing freedom (more like sword-thrusting). For me that was most of the suspense. Katherine's uncle makes a deal with her family: he will pay off all their debts if they send their youngest daughter to learn swordplay. We follow Katherine's journey, which culminates into only two major duels--but those are the payoffs, not the buildup. Those were the moments I held my breath for. And Kushner, contrary to my expectations of melodramatic Hollywood antics, maintains a tense--dare I say gentlemanly?--equilibrium that ended up being way more exciting.

With the privilege of the sword comes the power to challenge, to be challenged. To meet another on your own terms, whether they, or society, likes it or not.

I watched, and I responded. The crowd was quieter now. This was the way it was supposed to be, a conversation between equals, an argument of steel. I wasn't going to die. The worse that I could do was lose the bout, but I wasn't going to lose if I could help it.


This also resembles a novel of manners. There are codes of social mores, concerns about marriage, and money. In fact, the book opens with Katherine's going to her uncle's in order to save her family financially. One author on the back cover calls it a mixture of Georgette Heyer and Dumas, which though I've read neither, sounds fairly accurate. Kushner blends the two flavors so thoroughly that they feel part and parcel of the same world, even when not directly intersecting. Katherine's learning of swordplay, combined with Artemisia's husband-hunting, along a few others.

One of the things that surprised me was the Katherine's uncle, the Mad Duke. He takes something of a back seat and the role of teacher is relegated to three secondary characters. My question was, what kind of awesome weirdo sees his virtually-a-stranger niece's badass potential so unhesitatingly? In Calpurnia Tate, it's Calpurnia who seeks out her oddball grandfather of her own accord and earns his respect. At first, Kushner's explanation was that the Mad Duke was just a tad cracked in the head, but I wasn't going to accept that. As it turns out, this part is probably the most priceless piece of characterization in the whole book, and very subtly pulled off. Subtle enough that the pathos might even have been slightly dulled. But this is a rollicking adventure, not a deep emotional arc.

Ultimately, my favorite thing about The Privilege of the Sword is its concept. I love the combination of the traditional and the unorthodox, the way the story is structured to allow a girl to perform the heroics with all the right undertones of excitement, friendship, and accidental self-discovery. I hope Kushner's other books measure up, because I'm not sure just how much the plot concept played a role in my enjoyment, compared to all the disparate details added together. (There is some sex, which was interesting for historical-feeling context of prostitution and extramarital/bisexuality, but is written rather tonelessly.)

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