I still haven't put together my planned detailed discussion of Ellen Kushner's forthcoming book The Privilege of the Sword (aka TPotS, pronounced "teapots"), but Mary Anne's comments on the book this morning reminded me that I wanted to say one thing now while I'm thinking of it:
I'm pretty sure that you can read and very much enjoy TPotS without having read the previous books set in this world.
However, I suspect that you will enjoy it even more if you've read Swordspoint, the first book Ellen wrote set in this world. And TPotS contains several major spoilers for Swordspoint, as you would expect from a sequel.
And I've encountered some people recently who haven't read Swordspoint.
TPotS won't be released for another month. So if you haven't read Swordspoint--or haven't read it in the past, say, fifteen years--then I recommend sitting down and doing so now.
Especially because the current edition of Swordspoint also contains the three short stories featuring the same characters: "Red-Cloak" (published in Whispers in 1982; written well before Swordspoint, and doesn't quite match the tone of the others); "The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death" (published in F&SF in 1991; reprinted in SH a couple years ago, but we had to take it down when this reprint edition came out; very relevant to TPotS); and "The Death of the Duke" (published in Starlight 2 in 1998, and probably my favorite thing Ellen has written, and that's saying a lot).
You could also read, or re-read, The Fall of the Kings, which Ellen co-wrote with Delia Sherman, but as Mary Anne notes, Richard and Alec don't feature prominently in that one (as it's set 60 years after Swordspoint and
25 42 years after TPotS). (Corrected the "25 years" figured much later; apologies for the error. See Ellen's world description for a full chronology.)
Okay, let me be more specific. Here's the order I tentatively recommend for reading the main Richard and Alec pieces (with Fall of the Kings and "Red-Cloak" to be slipped in pretty much anywhere in the sequence):
- "The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death"
- The Privilege of the Sword
- "The Death of the Duke"
(It just so happens that that's also internal chronological order.)
Interestingly, in her notes in the back of the current edition of Swordspoint, Ellen says that she started writing the book that's now become TPotS way back in 1992, but put it on hold to focus on her radio show Sound & Spirit.
That author's note starts with Ellen talking about having originally planned never to write a sequel to Swordspoint. It ends with this:
So I give up. I love this place, I love these people, and I want to find out what happens next.
You'll be able to see what happens next in a few weeks. But if you don't already know what happens first to these characters, you should go read Swordspoint.
(Thanks to Amazon's "search inside this book" feature for letting me read the author's note in the current edition of Swordspoint even though I don't have that edition.)