The short of Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword: I liked it. Though I have to say I'm split.
But, first, a brief summary:
Lady Katherine Talbert goes to live with her Uncle, the Mad Duke, who has it in for Katherine's mother (the Duke's sister) and vows to leave her alone should she commit her daughter to living with him for six months. In that time, the Mad Duke completely changes her perspective on life and her place in it, having her trained as a swords(wo)man. Once she has mastered the sword, she can no longer go back to the life she would have otherwise led. It's as much a coming-of-age story as it is about the sordid politics the Mad Duke has immersed himself in. In the end, it's up to Katherine, with her Uncle's help, to save the day.
Now, on to my analysis...
On one hand, it's written exceptionally well. The writing flows naturally, the prose are very concise, never once does she launch into pages and pages of backstory or what I term 'excessive exposition', which is when a writer goes overboard dealing with a character's internal emotions or conflict. She keeps the story moving along from page-to-page, never really slowing with the exception of a page here and there where she gets a little too much into the intricacies of the lives of the young female aristocrats and their oh-so-harried social lives. The book was a delight to read, especially from the perspective of trying to learn, learn, learn everything I can so I can hopefully someday find success of my own with my own writing. Chalk this one up as a great learning experience.
On the other hand, there's not enough story there for my tastes. Kushner throws in a few smaller plotlines, one of which ties into Katherine's expertise with the sword, but the main plot didn't give me enough to sink my teeth into. I understand there are two other books which came out before The Privilege of the Sword (Swordspoint, The Fall of The Kings), but neither is necessary to understand this one (I haven't read either). So, what we have is Katherine learning the sword, her using her expertise to avenge a friend's honor, and the Duke playing a sort of chess game against one of his main rivals in the city. I'm afraid even that might be pushing it as the third point only comes into play towards the end.
In summary, The Privilege of the Sword is very well written but just didn't give me enough to truly enjoy it.
This review at http://www.scottmarlowe.com/post/Book-Review-Ellen-Kushners-The-Privilege-of-the-Sword.aspx