Swordspoint is the precursor to Privilege of the Sword, by Ellen Kushner. I don’t want to call it a “prequel” because they’re certainly not directly intertwined by any stretch – you can absolutely read Privilege first, then go back and read Swordspoint. In fact – that’s what I’d recommend.
I recommend reading in the reverse order for a very simple reason: I guarantee that if I had read Swordspoint first I would have put it down in disgust after a few chapters, and never picked it back up. As a result, I never would have read Privilege, and that would have been an absolute shame, since it was very enjoyable. You see... Swordspoint is SO very much a First Novel. It’s a little painful to read. I’m not even sure I can quite explain it... it’s like the author doesn’t describe or connect well enough. Some of it is just bad editing – POV jumps that aren’t differentiated, for instance. Other bits though... it’s like she’s expecting the reader to infer more is reasonable. She’s got her court intrigue and her implications all set up, but in some places it’s like you’re missing puzzle pieces or overtones that would make conversations and motivations make sense.
The result is that the first half of the book is rather disjointed and kind of frustrating to wade through. Luckily I was entertained enough to be reading about familiar characters that I stuck with it – and by the second half of the book she started hitting her stride and telling the story well. I’m not sure if she just got smoother as a story teller, or if I got enough grasp on the characters to fill in the holes.
Either way, I was very much enjoying the story by the end... and it entertained me so much that I’m currently re-reading Privilege. It’s pretty awesome to have some of the back story that’s implied (but never elaborated upon) brought to light, and it really gives a much more exciting tone to some of the scenes – particularly between Duke Tremontaine and Lord Ferris. I remember when I read Privilege for the first time that whole scene struck an odd note with me... but this time it makes so much more wicked sense.
So. If you enjoyed Privilege, by all means read Swordspoint. It’s good by the end, and certainly worth consuming if only to get some great back-story and have a greater appreciation for some of Privilege’s characters. Just don’t read it first, as it would be a shame to be entirely turned off of the entire series, solely because of some new-writer issues.