"Welcome to Riverside, where the aristocratic and the ambitious battle for power in the city's ballroom, brothels and boudoirs. Into this alluring world walks Katherine, a well-bred country girl versed in the rules of conventional society. Her mistake is thinking that they apply. For Katherine's host and uncle, Alec Campion, aka the Mad Duke Tremontaine, is in charge here--and to him, rules are made to be broken. When Alec decides it would be more amusing for his niece to learn swordplay than to follow the usual path to marriage, her world changes forever. Blade in hand, it's up to Katherine to navigate a maze of secrets and scoundrels and to gain the self-discovery that comes to those who master: the privilege of the sword."
This book was well-written in so many ways. Katherine (and Artemisia, and Marcus) were very well-developed characters who acted and reacted in realistic, three-dimensional ways. There was clearly a political backstory touched on in a previous novel, that created a backdrop to the main action, but the story didn't feel like it was missing anything crucial.
The only place this book fell short for me was the ending. It was rushed, and seemed like a lot of build up for a neat, happy ending. I don't know what it says about me that I was disappointed when no Good Guy was killed in the wake of Katherine's actions. I really thought her character climax would be more....more. And that the romance would develop more. Instead, it rushed through and tied itself up and left me wanting more.
Overall, I recommend this for fans of YA, especially with realistic female protagonists. This had honestly one of the best, most realistic handlings of a teenage girl's burgeoning sexuality that I've read in YA. I also recommend it for fans of fencing in the grand Renaissance style. It's swashbuckling fantasy, and I really hope Ellen Kushner continues the story of kick-ass Katherine.