The Privilege of the Sword

I didn't buy this book when it was initially released because it appeared to be a sure miss for me. Then followed praise and rave reviews, and still I declined to pick it up. It is only when it was nominated for the World Fantasy Award that I finally caved in. Given the fact that I don't always agree with the WFA nominations, and even more seldomly with the winners, I should have known better. . . In a way, I brought this upon myself. . .

I am acutely aware that some will grill me for saying this, but Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword is, in my humble opinion (which doesn't count for much, as some will surely point out!), fantasy chick lit. I'm all for strong and genuine female protagonists, yet this is one of the "girliest" novels I've ever read. Needless to say, this book didn't do it for me. I'm not implying that male readers won't enjoy it (many already have, with more to come, I'm sure), but, personally, I found it completely impossible to connect with the characters and the paper-thin plot underlying this tale.

On the upside, Kushner's prose is excellent. The author writes her narrative economically and skillfully. The Privilege of the Sword is as well-written as it gets. Still, as good as the prose is, it cannot possibly make a boring and predictable story any better.

There is no worldbuilding to speak of. This novel reads more like an alternate history book than a fantasy tale. Unfortunately, it lacks that breadth of details that an author like Guy Gavriel Kay brings to the table.

The characterization is the aspect which leaves the most to be desired. Artemisia and Lydia rank among the most insufferable, whiny, vapid, harebrained and soporific characters in the history of the genre. The main character, Katherine, never truly takes center stage, and thus she never really has the ability carry this story along. The sole interesting character is the Mad Duke Tremontaine, but he never lives up to his apparent potential.

I refer to this book as fantasy chick lit because it contains several elements that are associated with "chick lit." There's a very "girly" approach to the narrative. It focuses on undying/forbidden love, corny romance, flowers, jewelry, gowns, fabrics, and an inordinate amount of emo moments. For crying out loud, the characters shed more tears in this book than bridesmaids at a wedding! There is only so much crying one can take, after all. In addition, the emo male characters are not authentic.

The Privilege of the Sword is supposed to be a coming-of-age tale that is hip and edgy. Original? Well, we've seen it all before, I'm afraid. The gender role-reversal was done by Robin Hobb in the Liveship Traders series, and Althea was a much more believable and genuine character than Katherine could ever hope to be. Edgy? Why, because it contains girls kissing girls and men having sex with other men? Gay and bisexual characters make The Privilege of the Sword edgy? Perhaps I'm too avant-garde, but not in this house. I kept plodding on, reading more and more, desperately hoping that I would finally grasp what made this book such a favorite among many SFF fans. But the more I read, the worst it got. I guess that Ellen Kushner's brand of storytelling just isn't for me. . . To each his own, as they say!

The plot is as linear and straightforward as it gets. I was never drawn into the story, period. No convoluted and multilayered storylines comprise this tale. It moves in a fluid yet highly predictable rhythm.

I know that many will disagree with me, yet as far as I'm concerned, this is one of the most overhyped novels I've ever read.

Disappointing. . . And no, I will not be reading Swordspoint. . .

The final verdict: 6/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

49 commentaires:

Unknown said...

I'm SO glad to see someone else whose opinion I respect saying this... after so much hype, I picked it up almost right away and was equally disappointed. At least I found it at the library, rather than spending the money. Very disappointing for me. *sigh* I really don't like not liking books.

Anonymous said...

After having read Swordspoint I'd be hard pressed to pick up Kushner again.

alleahna said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who was not very fond of this book. I kept reading thinking it was finally going to kick in but it just never got better. It felt... half finished. And Katharine was irritatingly passive. I would whole-heartedly agree with your characterization of this book as fantasy chick lit. Books like this are one of the reasons I've been reluctant to read much fantasy lately.

SQT said...

I looked at this in the bookstore and just couldn't get into to it. I'm glad I didn't buy it.

Too much chic lit lately.

Ran said...

Members of the "A Song of Ice and Fire" forum responded to Pat's initial feelings on the book, including the "chick lit" remark, here. It also spawned a discussion about just what Chick Lit is and what people mean when they use it here.

This particular review highlights some fundamental differences between my tastes and Pat's, anyways, so it's certainly helpful to have datapoints like this to better consider how well his judgment might match mine.

The only thing I wonder at is the 6/10 score, which strikes me as a bit of a cop out when there's nothing but excellent prose to win his praise. Surely a lower rating would be closer to how you really feel about it, Pat?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to thank elio for linking to those dicussions.

Pat, when you want to make a reference to an outside discussions on the net, it's considered polite to link to them, that way you don't misrepresent their point of view.

I'm sad that after all this, you apparently didn't understand - maybe didn't listen - to the points others and I have made about Chick Lit, and calling a book that when it doesn't belong to such a category.

John Ottinger III (Grasping for the Wind) said...

I tried reading Kushner once. I picked up Swordspoint caused it looked so good. The writing was excellent, as you say, even the characters were interesting.

I finally put it down about ten chapters in when she got sexually graphic. I don't mind some references, and even got through some of the Tyrion scenes in GRRM, but Kushner just went over the top.

Her books are romance novels billed as fantasies because they contain some of those elements.

Some people may like that, but most fantasy readers tend to look for something more from their novels than what romance novels provide. There are plenty of choices within that genre for those who like it.

Andrew Wheeler said...

I haven't read this, but you might note that "chick lit" is the name of an actual genre, and so your point might be obscured. It doesn't, in the usual course of discussions about books, mean "a yucky book for yucky girls."

(I don't think you're saying that this is the story of a scatterbrained twenty-something in a modern big city, obsessed with fashion, shopping, and her own weight, who finds herself torn between two men, one of whom is completely wrong for her and the other one of whom won't pay any attention to her.

John: Novels with sex scenes =/= romance. Kushner is far from a romance writer. (She's clearly not to everyone's taste, so I'm not saying you have to like her books -- but what you dislike is not, actually, a romance.)

Unknown said...

Pat, what is your rating system? Do you rate from 1 to 10 as if it is a letter grade system or is 1 the worst, 5 average, 10 excellent? From your reviews, I assume the former, but it's hard to tell.

In my opinion, moving to a 1 to 5 system would probably benefit you although dropping the number entirely would probably be the best bet. Anyone that doesn't read the review isn't going to understand what a 6/10 means anyway.

Ran said...

Just to add that anyone who has read Thomas the Rhymer or The Fall of the Kings would know that Kushner does not write "romance novels". Then again, I can't see how anyone who has read Swordspoint could call it a romance novel. Yes, a messy, obsessive, bleak romantic relationship is at the heart of the novel, but it has none of the hallmarks. The Romance Writers of America describe romance novels as requiring an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending." Swordspoint just isn't in the running.

What it _is_ is a novel of manners (or "mannerpunk", as some jokingly dubbed it at the time). But it's no more a romance than Vanity Fair .

TPotS is probably the most cheerful book she's ever written, and ... well, it's not all _that_ happy.

Anonymous said...

Speaking to Pat's rating system, I've long ago decided that to have the score accurately reflect the content of the review, you have to subtract five points and then consider it a scale from one to five. I.E. 6/10 equals 1/5; 8/10 equals 3/5 etc.

Anonymous said...

Pat, I love your blog, but I'll pile on: The number ratings don't make sense. I've read several reviews where you say you didn't like the book at all, then give it a 6 out of 10. WTF?! ;-) That was not a 6 out of 10 review; that was more like a 2 or 3 out of 10 review. (I can see giving a book a few points for writing, but you basically trash all other aspects of the book.)

Anonymous said...

I have to side with Betsy and Alleahna on this. I wholeheartedly agree with Pat as far as this review is concerned. And yes, this coming from a woman who usually loves stuff by Hamilton, Arthur, Harris and co. I thought that The Privilege of the Sword was so much fluff...

You guys can debate semantics all you want, this IS fantasy chick lit, no matter how you look at it. And no, it's not a bad thing. Just know what you're getting into, is all!

Ran said...

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the audiences for Hamilton and Kushner are vastly different. There's crossover, but as my fianceé (who reads both) notes, she reads them for _very_ different reasons. It's no surprise at all that if you were expecting something in Hamilton's vein, you'd not care for it.

Again, Kushner's works are novels of manners. They are not "chick lit", not in terms of what the genre label actually means today (see what Andrew wrote), and not in terms that most people understand it unless you're using it to mean nothing else but, "about women, by women".

Thackeray wrote novels of manners. He is not, suffice it to say, generally considered a "chick lit" writer. Novels of manners are a development out of literary Realism, not targetted, market-driven urban pop literature.

Sarah said...

What Elio said.

I have plenty of go-to chick lit authors for when I want my reading a bit more mindless. I would not equate Kushner with that simply because she is a female author writing non-epic fantasy with a female character... I don't think it's the right term.

Keilexandra said...

Kumquat what Elio said, as well. I may be biased, as Kushner is one of my favorite authors, but regardless of my personal opinion, TPOTS is considered (by general consensus) fantasy of manners--not romance, and certainly not chick lit.

But I am glad that you made this post; at least now I can gauge how much your tastes diverge from mine.

Patrick said...

Well, I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who felt that way about the book.:-) Yet it's nice to see people from both sides of the fence responding here.

Elio: Thanks for linking those two discussions. 6/10 is just about right. I waited a full day before writing the review, just to give me a chance to cool down a little. Otherwise my frustration would have meant a lower score. But she's gets points for the impeccable prose, the fluid rhythm, her style. The fact that I didn't like it doesn't mean that it's utter garbage, you know. And as a writer, I can truly appreciate the mechanical aspect of her work.

Stranger: It's not that I didn't listen or understand those discussions on Westeros. We just don't agree, that's all. I don't hold it against you or anyone else. The novel didn't work for me, yet it did work for you. Case closed!:-)

Andrew, Elio and Sarah: I'm aware that "fantasy chick lit" is somewhat of a misnomer, but I couldn't find any other expression that would convey what I was attempting to explain. For all its failings, that expression allows people to get the gist of it.

Rich and co.: Blame Law School for my rating system and the fact that I was an A student. A "good" paper usually got you 75%. I remember my Social Law teacher telling my colleagues and I that we had the best paper of the class. Imagine our disappointment when we learned that we had gotten 83%! I sort of "score" novels the way I would grade papers. And to me, "good" begins at 7.5/10.

6/10 is the like a D, meaning that you pass, but just barely. I've said in the past that I would never read anything that didn't deserve a 6. I made an exception this summer for Bilsborough's The Wanderer's Tale, and it got a 5/10. Other than that, I simply stop reading shitty works and that's it. So in my mind, 6/10 is quite low.

If you want to make sense of it all, here's what it comes down to:

1 to 5/10: Various degrees of crap.

6/10: Can't quite believe I wasted my time on this.

7/10: All right

7.5: Good

8/10: Very good

9/10: Excellent

10/10: The shit!

Don't know if this helps. . .

SQT said...

I think we are getting too caught up in semantics on this. Obviously "chic lit" has certain connotations that don't necessarily go with fantasy writing.

To me novels that fall into the chic lit category are usually told from the first person pov with way too much inner dialogue and wise-cracking from a supposedly sexy-trendy-powerful woman of some sort.

I'm probably over simplifying, but that's how they always come across.

I'm sure Kushner's book isn't chic lit, but I got the gist of what Pat was saying.

Anonymous said...

the fact that you say "The novel didn't work for me, yet it did work for you. Case closed!" and think that's it proves to me that you didn't listen.
I liked the book, you didn't. I'm very fine with that. Lots of people dislike books that I like, and that's normal.
From the beginning, the thing I wanted to discuss wasn't the question of your taste, it was calling something "girly" and the usage of the category "Chick Lit". As many have already said in the comments, Chick Lit designs a specific category of novels which Kushner's books emphatecally does not belong to.
You've just explained yourself by saying it got a point across even if you knew it wasn't the right term, but I can't help feeling that, if you want to use a word in this way, you could do it otherwise. Either by warning "although it's not technically Chick Lit, the novel has some aspects that made me felt that it was destinned for women's reading pleasure and not for me so that I'm tempted to use "Chick Lit" to qualify it". Or in describing, using another word, what makes you associate it with "girliness" (which you did afterwhile anyway).

You've been very polite in your comments and I appreciate that, but hiding between a "we just disagree" is extremely dismissive. It was discourteous of you not to link to the previous discussions if you wanted to make references to them.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone actually notice that Patrick used the term "fantasy chick lit" and not "chick lit"?
I'd say it means the story contains elements of the "chick lit" and "fantasy" genre, that's it.

Also I can't find reference to any discussion in this review, so why should there be a link to it? Contrarily it might confuse people who read it in a year or so when the thread is already deleted from the forums.

Anonymous said...

The reference was "I am acutely aware that some will grill me for saying this"

As for the term "fantasy chick lit", the trouble is that even with this qualificaiton, the *only* element which Priviledge of the Sword has with Chick Lit is that it has a female protagonist.

Anonymous said...

As a girl I normally stick with the women, but I have to take Pat's side on this one.

Don't know why some people feel the need to argue the semantics of this "fantasy chick lit" phrase that Pat came up with.

The reality is that Kushner's latest book falls in that category, even if that specific category doesn't exist per se.

To me, I see no problem as to why Pat pointed this out in his review. And I fail to understand why some people feel the need to beat him on the head with that expression.

I didn't like The Privilege of the Sword all that much, and my husband threw the book across the room and couldn't finish it. I liked Swordspoint a lot more. I think I speak for a lot of people, both men and women, when I say that I agree with just about ever aspects of Pat's review.

Honestly, I don't understand why we're even having this debate. Yes, The Privilege of the Sword is girly and will probably appeal more to girls than guys. There's nothing wrong with that, in my opinion...:)

Anonymous said...

as a girl, I'm sure you'll be glad to know there were a number of men on our "side" as well.

I'm afraid I don't quite see how Kushner's novel falls into that category - not because it was a book I liked, but because it's a book with a sassy, sarcastic heroine in a modern, urban setting with lots of erotic situations. Perhaps, since you think it's a perfect description of the novel you can explain to me which elements makes it "Chick Lit"? I wasn't satisfied with Pat's description, from which I understood that Chick Lit was a genre of literature involving "emo boys", "crying", "corny romance" and, for some reason, lots of fabric. Seems to me he was describing something called "bad writing" and I'm not sure there's a genre of bad writing.

If you're so dumbfounded about Elio's and my protest about the expression "fantasy chick lit", I invite your read the links Elio gave. Maybe it can be made clearer to you there. If not, you could always ask questions.

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Patrick said...

Stranger: As I said in my previous comment, I'm aware that "fantasy chick lit" is a misnomer, but it's the only expression that seem to convey what I felt.

In all honesty, I never thought about linking the 2 Westeros discussion. I'm glad Elio did, but I don't think they bring that much to the table. Other than perpetuating a circular debate that goes nowhere...

Of course I'm polite in my comments. I don't have anything against you or anyone else who doesn't agree with me. As I stated more than once in those Westeros discussions, I don't have a monopoly on good taste. I'm not an authority by any stretch of the imagination, so I don't understand why my thinking that many facets of The Privilege of the Sword were frivolous (hence the fantasy chick lit thing) should pique some people in such a seemingly profound manner.

There are a lot of books I loved and others despise. You don't see me run to Erikson's defense when a new "Can't stand Steven Erikson" thread is created on a message board. I understand that not everything is for everyone, and I don't think any less of those who are Erikson haters. They're entitled to their own opinion, after all.

I just read you LJ, by the way. And I must say I was a little taken aback by how I appear to be portrayed by some. I've been called many things in my days. Some of it uncalled for, but most of it deserved.:-) And yet, some seem to imply that I'm a sexist pig, which would be a first!;-)

It's odd, because if those people took a minute to peruse my reading tastes, they would see that several female authors figure among my favorites. I guess that being a huge fan of Robin Hobb, Katherine Kurtz, Robin Hobb, C. S. Friedman, Margaret Weis, Carrie Vaughn, and others doesn't count. Oh yeah, that's right. According to someone in those Westeros discussions, these women write "macho" fantasy. Well, personally, I feel that this term is more demeaning and derogatory than calling Kushner's book "fantasy chick lit." It would be interesting to see what these female authors thought about writing what is referred to as "macho" fantasy books...

Frankly, I think that too many people are very quick to play the "sexist" card. That's how I feel, yet feel free to disagree. And it's weird, because I'm actually a sucker for a good romance (just not too often, mind you), and I've seen more than my share of "chick flicks." More recently, I've thoroughly enjoyed Rawn's Spellbinder (which bears the paranormal romance label, just so you know), and Carrie Vaughn's Kitty novels (which have been called chick lit, by the way). Yep, these books contained "chick lit" elements, yet they're not "girly." Which is probably why I like them the way I do...

As others have pointed out, here and elsewhere, I think that some of you are reading too much into this. When I say "fantasy chick lit," I don't imply bad writing. I imply writing that annoys the hell out of me. Yes, I felt it was "girly" and I didn't care much for it. But I have never accused Ellen Kushner of bad writing. Damn, I mentioned that the prose if about as good as it gets...

You want a story written by a female writer about gender role-reversal, with a genuine heroine that must go through hell (including rape) to make it, check out Hobb's The Liveship Traders.

As I said before, I'm not going to apologize for not liking The Privilege of the Sword, nor will I do so for referring to it as "fantasy chick lit." If a more appropriate expression can be found, I'll be happy to use it in the future. That's a promise.

If some of you want to make me the "bad guy," so be it. I can't change the way you feel about this. I don't understand why some people feel so strongly about this and feel the visceral need to debate semantics endlessly, but I respect your opinion all the same. I simply don't agree with you...

Then again, variety is the spice of life.:-)

Anonymous said...

Chalk me up as another girl who sees nothing wrong with this fantasy chick lit thing.

I came to terms with the somewhat negative connotation associated with chick lit years ago. And you wanna know something? That never stopped me from reading and enjoying that sort of thing.

And yes, as others have said in other comments, I do agree with Pat about The Privilege of the Sword. I'm not about to start to quibble about semantics. In my own little world Kushner's book is fantasy chick lit, so sue me.

I'll be the first to say that I don't always agree with Pat's reviews. But I think that some of you are going out of your way to give him a hard time about an unimportant choice of words.

This is rather pointless...

Anonymous said...

As a woman forced to put up with a lot of male foolishness at work and in my every day life, one would think that I would agree with those defending Kushner. Having read The Privilege of the Sword, I can do nothing but agree with Pat and the others...

I fear that those whose feathers have been ruffled by Pat's use of the phrase "fantasy chick lit" are extrapolating way too much. As some have said, you guys are reading too much into this. Splitting hairs over semantics and all.

There are times when feminists make women as a whole look extremely silly. This is one of those times, I'm afraid.

And what's that link to Stranger's LJ Pat mentioned? I've been following this blog for quite a while, and he (Pat) has never come across as sexist. On the contrary, he has reviewed (quite favorably, I might add) many SFF female writers. So I don't see how this review, taken by itself and out of context, could make him a sexist pig, as he put it.

Pat has always done good by me, and I'm a little surprised that some would want to mudsling him for a relatively "on target" review of Kushner's novel. Okay, so he thinks it's girly and some don't agree. So what??? I do too and I'm a girl!

And yes, on occasion I like chick lit and chick flicks! And you know what? I don't feel belittled because of that, even if my bf teases me about this sometimes...

Anonymous said...

As I said in my previous comment, since you were aware not only that it was a misnomer, but that it was a misnomer which several people found had sexist conotation, you should have warned against it, or not used it.

Circle of debates only go somewhere when some people are listening to others. I've yet to see any proof that you've listened to me, or to anyone else on this subject. However, since you keep repeating the same thing, I'll repeat myself as well :

I couldn't care less about whether or not you like Kushner's novel. I certainly don't request an apology of you for not liking it. Wouldn't I be silly if I did? Thanks for implying I would be that silly. Thank you as well for depicting me as someone who would run after the Erikson bashers. I wish you a lot of fun fighting against that strawwoman you're making of me.

You are no more an authority than I am, as a human being. I think as such you certainly have both the authority and the responsability to not perpetrating sexism when you are made aware of it and when it's in your power. (No more than you would perpetrate racism, homophobia or other prejudices, I hope).

I don't remember having called you anything at my LJ, although I do remember having seen others do, none of those names were "sexist pig". The only insulting thing at you I've seen written was "pompous jackhole", which I think was more a reflection of your defensiveness than of your own uneximined sexism.
Yes, you have sexism. Everyone does. Me too. But indeed, by refusing to listen when others have explained to you this sexism, you've been intentionnally sexist. Congratulation.

I can't help but smile when you list the number of female writers you like. Do you realize they account for the exact same thing as someone saying "Lots of my friends are Jewish", of someone saying "I'm not homophobic, but..."?

When you said "fantasy chick lit" you implied nothing but bad, if not writing, storytelling. To quote your word, you thought it worth those words because it had "corny romance", non "authentic" "emo male characters", and an "inordinate amount of emo moments".
Likewise, at Ran's board, you said you never meant to say that Chick Lit novels weren't worthy of a WFA prize and you never answered when I quoted back your words to you where you'd said exactly that.

You must be angry, and I can't fault you. But *think* damnit. Think about what you say. I'm not trying to picture you as a bad guy, I don't care for that. None of us do. It's your words, and what they convey, that we see as the "bad guys".

I thank you for the Liveship Traders rec, although it comes a bit late. I did love this serie, although definitly not for Althea which I wouldn't praise a lot as a character. Maltha, Paragon, and Kennit, Wintrow were all much more fascinating characters. If you want to talk about interesting female characters by Robin Hobb, I think a better chose would be Ki from the Ki and Vandien sequence. She's not Ista, but she's definitly an interesting strong female character.

melanie, you can find a link to my LiveJournal here : with some discussions of both this review of Pat, and of previous discussions. You may judge for yourself how much extrapolating was done.

I'd be certainly willing to listen to both you or Cindy's arguments (or anyone else's) about why Pat's comments (and other's, since Pat's was hardly the one person singled out in this debate) weren't sexist. Do you have any, or is the sum of your arguments the fact that you're female and that you like Pat?

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who thinks that this whole thing is going nowhere fast?

Men have wisely stayed clear of this little episode. Now I think I'll say a word or two even if I end up being considered sexist too.

Stranger, I read everything Pat wrote in his comments, and I don't see why you should feel attacked. I guess that's what people mean when they sey that you read too much into this. Really I don't see how you can consider the things he said as a personal slight or something.

I read the threads Elio linked and your own LJ and I think that a lot of you people are overreacting over this. There is no real debate going on because there is no ground for one. As far as a few people implying that he was a "sexist pig," well I would feel that way if I was the target of your and others' apparent anger...

I wonder if you have a beef with him or something. This feels like some kind of getting-back-at-you. I've read TPotS last year and I was totally disappointed by it. I've read Pat's review and I find that I agree with what he's saying.

What more do you want here? Respect for Kushner? Is it wrong for people, boys and girls, not to like the book? Why must it automatically be a sexist thing is someone doesn't like insipid young female characters, corny romance and emo male characters that don't feel reel? Women have been bitching about Jordan for years for not writing believable female characters. Did you ever hear him scream about sexism? Why would it be sexist to say that Kushner's male characters are not believable?

You look like you hold a grudge and will do anything to prove your point. Nothing in what I've read of Pat's responses tells me that he's angry or something. To tell the truth, I think he's dumbfounded by all this.

I know I am... But I'm happy to see that a lot of female readers are sticking with Pat on this.


Anonymous said...

Stranger, I have to say that you seem to be grasping at straws, girl. No one is making a strawwoman out of you but yourself. Pat has been downplaying this whole debacle and he's remained non-confrontational. You, on the other hand, see insults where there are none and you seem to have a vendetta against him.

The Privilege of the Sword was a very "meh" read for me. Come on, you must admit that the plot is on the lame side. This book is not Kushner's best and that's a fact. Even if I didn't dislike it the way Pat did, I'm forced to agree with most of what he said.

Like other women here, I don't see the problem with calling this fantasy chic lit. If you want to split hairs, yes it can be considered sexist. But I thought that we women had evolved and grown beyond this sort of thing. Are we back in the 60s?

I have to agree with the person who said that sometimes feminists make all women look bad. It feels as if you're trying to turn sometihng innocent into a scandal. I've read maybe 100 reviews on this blog since I discovered it by accident. Never once did Pat come across as sexist. Not before and not now.


Anonymous said...

Feminist make women look bad? Do you know what the word feminist means?

Even if Pat is being 'polite' he is still being sexist. That's enough reason for being angry.

This discussion is making me embarrassed. I don't care about anybody's opinion about Kushner and it's really obvious that the discussion isn't about that. Using terms as corny, emo, etc. to describe all things associated with women's literature is sexist, even if it's just implied.

The fact that you don't see it as offensive doesn't means it isn't. You are in a position of privilege, for God Sake.

Ran said...

I'll chime in with stranger and blackrose here, and (to make it plain) I'm a guy. And I'm one who has never felt the need or urge to claim he was a feminist.

My own problem is the fact that Patrick felt the need to use "chick lit" when he already knew from previous discussion that "chick lit" wasn't appropriate in this context and was going to confuse the issue. He could have just called it a girly book, explained what he meant, and left it there. But, no, he insisted on his incorrect usage.

I find it interesting that in the course of defending the usage, he ends up trying to turn the tables and arguing against the use of "macho" when talking about books. Well, nice, Pat, but you don't actually use "macho" when talking about those books, but you do use "girly" when talking about this one. Why?

Anonymous said...

I don't feel attacked and there were no personnal slight, no grudge. If anyone's doing the attacking, it's me. I'm quite aware of that fact. I'm doing it because I see sexism being, knowingly or unknowingly, perpetrated by Pat's words, and I wish to speak against sexism. It's no more complicated than that.

It is easy for you to say we are overreacting. Certainly, Pat's review in itself isn't a big, worrisome fact. But Pat's review isn't an isolated incident, there's a lot of people out there, especially in the SF/F milieu, who've demeaned women, who do not take female writers seriously, who do not include female fans like others are. Have you ever wondered about the number of women amoung Hugo nominees, for example? There's a lot of sexism in general in SF/F, in MY fandom. So, I speak against it, when I think I may be listened to. I thought Pat would. Since he's not a bad guy.

I have no personnal beef against Pat. I've had little direct contact with him before that discussion, and I had nothing but respect for him at the time. Even now, though I've disliked his lack of listening attention and his misrepresentation of what I said, I admire his ability to keep his cool and his politeness.

You're people are weird, it's funny the number of time I apparently need to repeat this : I don't care that Pat, or you, or anyone else dislikes this book. I happened to like it, but even if I thgouth that book was crap my reasonnment would be the same : the problem is that Pat has associated literature of women (written by women, written for women) and qualities of "girliness" to what he's definitly describe as bad writing. As such, he's, intentionnally or not, implying that all literature by women or for women is of lesser quality, is inferior. My problem is that this is sexist.
It's not very complicated.

You can criticize Kushner's characterization of male characters all that you want, as long as you don't imply that her characterization isn't something inherantly female and inherant to female writing.

Like other women here, I don't see the problem with calling this fantasy chic lit. If you want to split hairs, yes it can be considered sexist.
Thank you for saying so, I don't really want more than an admition that calling it "fantasy chick lit" is sexist. However I'm surprised you don't think it's a problem. I think that sexism is a problem. Whyever do you think sexism isn't something problematic? Please, explain, I'm confused.

Can you also explain what you mean about women having had "evolved and grown beyond this sort of thing". Were women children in the 60's to have grown up since? I've no idea what you mean.

I don't see why I would make all women look bad. When I act badly, I hope that I make only myself look bad. Why should you generalize my action upon all the female gender? This is odd. If you're at it, why don't you say I make all French people look bad, or maybe, all Jews look bad? I speak only for myself, I don't pretend to speak for other women, nor for all feminists.

Sarah said...

@ Jeff

Men have wisely stayed clear of this little episode. Now I think I'll say a word or two even if I end up being considered sexist too.

Oh, see now, what is that supposed to mean? I've been reading this whole discussion, and there are posts either way from both male and female readers. But I suppose men are "wise" to stay away because of how over-emotional and irrational those little womens can be...

Yes, I will call that sentiment sexist, because it is.

Jazz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jazz said...

RE: Jeff

Prior to your comment, I see two men and three women arguing against Pat's misuse of the term "Chick Lit" in his review in these comments. You won't be so readily labeled "sexist" if you have remotely supportable facts behind your sweeping generalizations. Try it sometime.

RE: Pat

As a writer, I would hope that you recognize the enormous power of word choice. Not only does your choice to dismissively describe the book as "chick lit" and "girly" propagate certain gender stereotypes, you aren't actually being very informative with those terms.

Note that I have not read the book, and I have no plans to do so. I find no fault in your opinion of the book, simply in the words you've chosen to convey that opinion.

Patrick said...

Please, guys, let's all keep it clean. I don't want this to turn ugly...

I don't have a beef with Stranger, nor do I believe that she has a vendetta gainst me. She feels strongly about this, and I guess I put myself in the perfect position to be at the receiving end of her ire. By calling Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword "fantasy chick lit," I was aware that some would likely take exception. But as I said, it was the only expression I felt could convey what I was trying to say. Most, it would seem, have no problem with the misnomer, while others do. That's the way it goes...

What I find a bit suprising is the fact that some appear to believe that there was some malicious intent on my part in this, and believe me there was none. I said on Westeros in that initial thread that I didn't want to be drawn into a discussion that would do nothing but polarize readers into two opposing camps. Which is what happened here. Stranger and Elio are standing on what side, with their staunch beliefs and arguments, while others oppose them with the same resilience. Around us, you have everyone else (judging by the number of emails I've been receiving), watching this and wondering why people are making such a fuss about my review.

Stranger, you said: «the problem is that Pat has associated literature of women (written by women, written for women) and qualities of "girliness" to what he's definitly describe as bad writing. As such, he's, intentionnally or not, implying that all literature by women or for women is of lesser quality, is inferior. My problem is that this is sexist. It's not very complicated.

You can criticize Kushner's characterization of male characters all that you want, as long as you don't imply that her characterization isn't something inherantly female and inherant to female writing.»

Again, I'll say that I'm not implying that literature written by women for women is of lesser quality. I guess I see an enormous difference between "girly" books and "womanly" books. I felt that Melanie Rawn's Spellbinder was aimed more at a female audience than its male counterpart. That didn't preclude me from liking it, far from it. "Girly" makes me thing about YA novels. The crying in every chapter or so, calling the scarecrow she practices on Fifi, the fascination with that fairy tale of swordsmen and damsels, etc. Take away the sexual content, and The Privilege of the Sword could be a definite YA title, in my opinion. Spellbinder, on the other hand, was about a three-dimensional female protagonists coming to terms with "adult" problems, etc. Yes, there was romance and sex and all that, but I never felt that the book was "girly."

I've never meant to imply that literature by female authors was inferior. Having said that, I do believe that The Privilege of the Sword is a decidedly lackluster effort, a book that's been overhyped more than anything I can remember since I've started reviewing SFF books. Hence, when it comes to this particular title, yes I do believe it's of lesser quality than what I have come to expect from WFA nominees or any "good" fantasy novels. And yes, I do feel that those "girly" elements kill the story, which is paper-thin to begin with. But again, it's a question of taste. Considering the accolades and the rave reviews the novel has garnered, many people would beg to differ.

Literature by women aimed at a female audience can be of the highest quality. Just not this book (in my opinion).

I'm acutely aware that there's nothing I can say that will satisfy you, Stranger. I guess that we'll just have to agree to disagree.

Okay, gotta get ready to go to work, so I can't write more. It's obvious that the fact that I don't see this as "offensive" irritates some of you. But as I don't consider all female literature as a crock of shit (as many seem to imply), I'm a bit confused by the unyielding approach of my "detractors." It's not as though I have a history of thrashing books by SFF female authors... So I guess I can see why many people here (mostly women, I'm astonished to see!) are defending me and my review.

There is no "true" debate here, for either side will not yield and accept that the other may have a point. So the debate (it's not really a debate, after all) goes around in circles, annoying both sides, with no progress being made at any point in the discussion. Which, in the end, is rather pointless.

I already admitted that "fantasy chick lit" was a misnomer, but that there was no other expression that would convey how I felt about the book. I also conceded that if you want to split hairs, yes it can be deemed as sexist. I'm afraid that's as far as I'm willing to go, however. As for the "girly" elements, I'm standing by that statement, whether you like it or not.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stranger,

As a man I don't know if my opinion counts for much, but here it goes.:)

As a person who espouses many social causes, I commend you for what you're doing. I really do. But you have to know how and when to choose your battles. Hanging on like a pitbull who won't let go of its prey only makes you look bad right now.

You pointed out in your last comment that your anger is more directed at the general sexism you perceived in and around the SFF genres. So Pat, in a way, is just a convenient target.

Debating semantics here won't really help you overmuch, as demonstrated by the amount of female support Pat is getting from fans.

Take your fight where it's gonna mean something. I've read this blog for about two years now and, as far as I can tell, Pat has a more or less perfect track record. Here you have a guy who not only liked female SFF writers but he also loved a good, strong, genuine female character too. As a result, throwing haymakers at him over a choice of words actually makes you look bad.

And the worst that can happen and which would hurt the cause you're defending is to appear as an overreacting crackpot. This is the only blog I read and I don't go on message boards, so I can't direct you toward the right venue to vent that pent up anger you seem to have. But I'm sure there's another place where you could debate all this, a place where it would actually have a better chance to helping your cause, which is sexism within the SFF genres.

Doing so here will get you nowhere fast, as some have already pointed out. I hope you will continue to fight for what you feel is right, but you have to bring this debate to venues that will actually help you make some headway.

Just my opinion...

Anonymous said...

I didn't think you were being malicious, only dismissive, in your intentionnal continued use of the word "Chick Lit". I understand you didn't mean to imply that literature witten by women for women is inferior, but my point was that even unintentionnally, that's what your words ended up conveying. I guess I don't think "but that there was no other expression that would convey how I felt about the book" is a good excuse for using a misnomer without warning about the fact it's a misnomer.

You make now some interesting point about "girly" being also an idea of more youthful writing. I think there's one thing I'd agree there, it's that Priviledge of the Sword is in many ways a... roman d'apprentissage (what's the English?), and that the story is the reflection of the youthfulness of its main protagonist, even though I think the novel has a broader scope that just that. I think Priviledge was actually a deconstruction of the typical teenage female fantasy that could be emblematized by Mercedes Lackey, especially when one takes into account the short story at the end of Swordspoint which gives the background for Alec's relationship with Katherine's mother, and her love of poneys.Anyway the quality or lack of thereof of Priviledge is irrelevant to my main point.

I'm acutely aware that there's nothing I can say that will satisfy you, Stranger.
You're wrong, you gave me at least part of what I wanted in this same comment, when you said : "it can be deemed as sexist". That's actually all I wanted (well, that and being careful about not doing it in the future).

I think "let's just agree to disagree" is mostly a cop out, at least in this discussion. Discussions of taste, yes, they're a matter of opinion and no convincing can do, but I've never dispute your right to dislike this novel. I was discussing the meanings embedded in your own words, and that's something for which arguments can be used rather neatly actually. And I was - and am still - absoluly willing to hear people's arguments against my position and - if they are sound - willing to yield. However most of the people who've commented against me here haven't done so : they've defended you as a person - which was never something I attacked, they've attacked a position they appeared to think I had which - I never actually had - and they made cheap shot against feminism. What they lacked in logic, they certain made up with loyalty to you, so that's something at least to be praised.

I do not however think this was a purely a sterile circular dialogue of deaf people. At Ran's board before, at my own journal, I've seen some interresting discussions spring from this. That's never something worth nothing.

I'm not sure if you understand even know that even if you're in all likelihood not someone actively sexist, who thinks highly of women in general and even like books written by women, you may still be (as everyone may be) liable to use words that convey sexism, mostly because the society and culture we live in is structurally sexist. That's why I don't consider your history, and other people's vouching about your history, as relevant to the debate. That's also why I'm not and was never attacking you as a person.

I'm definitly willing to listen to you, regardless of the shape of your bits and chromosomes. A good argument is a good argument whether it's made by a man or a women, a bad argument is a bad argument whether it's made by a man or a woman. It is very odd that you think I would be sexist enough to dismiss what you say simply because you're male. I would be sexist as well to value the comments by Pat's female readers more because they were female.

I think you've mistaken me if you think Pat was a convenient target. Pat wasn't a target. The words he had used were the target.

You may or may not be right about the fact that this help fighting against sexism overal. Honestly, I don't know. But neither do you. Neither do you know if it's the only place I do that. I am very free to chose were to waste my energy or not, and if that make me look like a pitbull so be it. For myself, I'd say if I rid you of the strange misconception that a feminist wouldn't listen to your opinion just because you are a man, then it wouldn't be wasted.

As I said to Pat earlier, I don't think his history of liking and promoting books by female authors is relevant because sexism is sadly something so embedded in our culture, anyone (I include myself) is liable to end up perpetuating sexism by their words. It's often unintentional, but it still happens. And that's why I think it's important to make people aware that the words they use can mean something they didn't mean.

Saying I would hurt the "cause" I'm defending (I'm having trouble not smiling here, Serious Business indeed!) is faulty. I speak only for myself. I don't speak for my "cause". I think my "cause" was more harmed by the people who insisted on misreading what I said. I think my "cause" would be more harmed if, by being made afraid to stir trouble, I was made to keep silent.

Anonymous said...

Why are people reading so much into this, that is so gay.* 'Chicks' are usually females who like to read about romance, relationships, fabrics, tears, fluff, puppies, bunnies, teddy bears and boy on boy sex. Hence the Term chick lit is used to describe a book written for chicks. Pat does not have to like a book about romance, fluff, puppies and bunnies but he does have the right to label such a book with a term that implies femininity. In no shape, way or form does this make him sexist. It is only by the most superficial of coincidences that the only word which describes every aspect of the book he dislikes is also a derogatory term used to demean the female gender.

*I am not a homophobe, I am only using the term "gay" to substitute "lame" because it is the only word that truly described what I felt about this argument.


Larry Nolen said...

Damn, Pat, you really got a discussion going with this one! I guess this is what I miss when I zone out of genre discussions for a few days! :P

Seems like there must be something to this story (which I shall read this weekend or early next weekend, in preps for the WFA Finalist reviews I have planned) that's causing such strong comments for or against. Perhaps that might be one of the reasons why it is up for the WFA, as perhaps it's one of those books that inspires reactions and not just a general "gee, that was pretty good" and then is forgotten soon afterwards?

Shall be interesting to see what I make of it when I read it. I wonder how many others are curious about it because of the debate here...

Paddy said...

you say that you acknowledge and knew prior to writing it that your use of the term "Fantasy Chick Lit" was a misnomer.
You also say that you were unable to think of any other phrase which conveyed what you felt about the book.
Couldn't you have... (and I know this is a radical idea)... just not said it?
I mean, if you knew it was a misnomer, you surely knew the implications that the phrase had (especially given the prior discussion on and so you knew the negative connotations that the term had.
Were those part of what you wanted to convey about the book? After all, a phrase will have all of the meanings and implications which are associated with it, no matter if you meant only a subset of them upon using it.

I cannot see why you had to put the phrase in there. Is it a requirement to have snappy soundbytes in a review?

Why not leave it out and instead tell us, the readers, the individual properties that you felt the book had which didn't sit well with you which you seem to feel are conveyed by "fantasy chick lit"?
I cannot help but feel that doing otherwise is lazy criticism, especially given your explanation of knowing it was a misnomer.

Patrick said...

Stranger: Well, if my comment managed to satisfy you in some small way, I guess there's something good that came out of this!:-)

Larry: Hope you like it more than I did... Since I hated it that much, I figure it will win the WFA!;-)

Paddy: I don't see why I should have elaborated on every negative aspect of this book when those three words (fantasy chick lit) conveyed my point so perfectly. No one here has suggested a better expression thus far... Regardless of the fact that it is a misnomer, everyone got the gist of it. As it got my point across, what the heck?

Yes, it has a negative connotation, but it was meant to convey what -- for me -- sucks about this novel.

I feel -- wrongly, perhaps -- that writing about 10 paragraphs expounding on how bad some of the elements comprising this book turned out to be would have been akin to the old Law adage: Flogging a dead horse.

Larry Nolen said...

I think I probably did end up liking it more than you (finished it earlier today), but it certainly doesn't rate better than the third out of the five at best, based on the four I've read to date (still have the King to read later this weekend, perhaps).

I'll write the review later tonight, but I'll just only say that what I'll be focusing on will be quite different than what you addressed here. I saw a different problem with it, I think, although as a whole, it was a competent read.

Paddy said...

see, my issue is that I can't see how you can possibly believe that the phrase perfectly encapsulated what you were trying to say when there has been so much confusion caused by it and also the fact that what has been established here as the definition of "chick lit" has, going by the comments here, next to nothing in common with this book.

In other words, it failed to get your point across, which is why I suggested dropping it and explain what your issues were.

Reading your last response, I cant help but think you're more than just a little bit taken with yourself and what you inaccurately perceive as your own cleverness, because I can't see how you can think that the phrase conveyed what you appear to have mean "perfectly".

Anonymous said...

Hi, Pat!

I believe the inaccuracy and sexism of your use of the term 'chick lit' have been repeatedly explained to you, so I won't bother. However, I will certainly explain the inaccuracy and sexism of your use of the term 'girly', and how your good intent does not, in fact, make it any less sexist.

You dismiss a book with the adjective 'girly', because of its negative elements.

'Girly' is an adjective which denotes youth and femininity - and you repeatedly use it in a negative sense, meaning an overabundance of weepiness & a lack of realism. This equates 'youth & femininity' - as girly is defined as 'of, relating to, or having the characteristics of a girl or girlhood', link here - with 'bad writing', 'bad taste', & 'bad qualities', more specifically with 'an overabundance of weepiness & a lack of realism'.

I'm a young woman. I, in fact, can be described as 'girly' in some aspects - I wear skirts, put my hair back in pigtails (it's too short for a ponytail), and generally tend to appear noticeably young and certainly female. I also routinely out-argue most of the older, male students in my college classes. Even as a child, I was a capable thinker (for my age). This doesn't make me - and didn't make me - any less young, or less female. It also doesn't & didn't make me any less feminine, although my general avoidence of the painful pointy shoes might.

I'm not interested in your motivation. Good intent does not make the sexist connotations go away.

To be very clear, I'm not attacking your character. I'm stating my point of view - that the word you have used and continue to use is dismissive towards people of my age & sex, and also towards 'femininity' in general - and backing it up with logic & examples, as should anyone (male or female, old or young) trying to make a point.

I hope that this has been helpful in defining and communicating my point of view. Looking over this comment, I realize that it is very long and unwieldly, but oh well. I shall beat this old, sexist horse until I am sure it is genuinely dead and not just faking it.


P.S. To other commenters: there is nothing wrong with being a feminist. Here is a good definition of feminism. Notice the lack of 'man-hating' required.

Anonymous said...

Dear "R." from the previous Anonymous post,

What. The. Heck. I wish I could find you personally instead of clogging up Pat's page (sorry Pat), especially since I can't even tell how long ago that post was written on my crappy computer, but- sorry, dear, you may not be homophobic, but adding a disclaimer to 'gay' as a derrogatory term does not make you any less insulting towards us. You might not hate us, but that doesn't mean what you said doesn't hurt very deeply.

A better word to explain how "lame" you thought this discussion would be, well, "lame". Or perhaps "pointless", "inconclusive", or "just plain stupid". I do believe the whole reason Pat's post has become a hotspot was because of just that sort of mis-attention to language. Neither of you were purposely trying to hurt anoyone, but, sadly, you did.

I'm just passing through, so I won't rant and make you apologize. I won't see it if you do, and I won't see it if you don't. But I just want you to know there's a girl out there who's hoping you'll realize that just because she's 'gay' doesn't mean she's 'lame', and that just because it's slang doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.


Anonymous said...

Did I enter a time warp? This is the sort of review that belongs to the 1950's. Fantasy chick lit exists, but this isn't it. Calling a narrative that explores, subverts, and points out the difficulty caused by rigid gender roles as "girly" in an insulting way is insane and misses the point of the novel entirely.

I agree, Kushner is light on world building and heavy on personal intrigue, but that's what sets it apart from the genre. It's doing something you don't like to read about--okay. That's fine. Say that. But the air of dismissal in this review is sick.

Anonymous said...

Found this post and following discussion years ago, no memory of how I found it. The discussion was interesting enough, and Pat's review so dismissive, that I was intrigued to read TPOTS. Thank you very much, loved the book, have reread it several time, enjoyed all the rest of Ms. Kushner's book set in its universe. I can see how it would not be to everyone's taste. However it is not chick lit, it is not romance, it is fanatsy. You may not like it, but don't mis label it. It shows your own lack as a reviewer.