Lady of the Glen


Sword-Sworn by Jennifer Roberson
(DAW Books, $24.95, PG) ISBN 0-88677-954-5
Last in the Sword-Dancer Saga, comprised of: Sword-Dancer, Sword-Singer, Sword-Maker, Sword-Breaker, Sworn-Born and Sword-Sworn (all available in paperback except for Sword-Sworn)

Donít you hate it when science fiction and fantasy series go on forever and ever? If you join the series in progress, you have to play catch-up by finding the earlier books (if theyíre still in print) and then wait anxiously for future books, hoping that both you and the author live long enough to complete the series. When I saw that Sword-Sworn was the last book in Jennifer Robersonís Sword-Dancer saga, however, I knew I had found a series with great potential. Just six books in length, and all of the books are still readily available. Once I read Sword-Dancer, I was hooked and raced through the exhilarating series in just six weeks.

Theoretically, you could read Sword-Sworn without experiencing the earlier books, but why would you want to? Start, as I did, with Sword-Dancer. Youíll immediately be introduced to the singular hero, Tiger, whose wry first-person narration is the heart and soul of the series. Tiger is a native of the hot, arid South. Raised as a slave by the fierce Salset nomad tribe, he won his freedom as a teenager - and gained a name - by killing a vicious sandtiger. He then struck out on his own, eventually finding his way to a famous sword-fighting school, where he spent years perfecting his skills and earning his reputation as the best sword-dancer alive.

Since then, he has lived an itinerant life, taking occasional mercenary or guard jobs and spending his downtime ogling the wine girls at the local bars. When a tall, beautiful blonde woman walks into his cantina and announces she wants to hire him to guide her through the dangerous Punja desert, Tiger has no idea that his life is about to be irrevocably altered by a Northern bascha (lovely). He canít imagine how a mere woman could have traveled all the way from the cold Northern lands to the South by herself. Women, after all, are weak creatures, only good for cooking and keeping a manís bed warm. Tiger doesnít believe that this woman can wield the impressive sword that she carries, for only men are trained as sword-dancers. But something about the woman, who calls herself Del, intrigues him, so he reluctantly agrees to help her find her long-lost brother.

The search for Delís brother is just the first of many adventures that Tiger and Del share over the next four years and six books. Their saga includes narrow escapes, near-death experiences, sword battles galore, sorcery both good and evil and a really bad-tempered horse. Through it all, Tiger and Delís partnership evolves from uneasy business partners to lovers, and eventually to soul-mates who are willing to lay down their lives for each other. Itís a romance of action, not words, however; I think the word ďloveĒ is mentioned once in the entire series, and itís Tiger, not Del, who uses it. And I might have missed it, but I donít think we even know the first time they make love. But even for this die-hard romantic, that didnít stop the books from being incredibly tender and heart-breaking.

Robersonís fantasy world is borrowed from many sources. Delís native North is modeled on Norse mythology, while Tigerís South is straight out of Arabian Nights. But the multitude of colorful characters that our hero and heroine encounter provide the depth for the somewhat cardboard setting. While Tigerís wit keeps the books from becoming too dark, this is no light-hearted romp. People die, and hopes are unanswered. Tiger and Del finally find their heartís dream, but only at great cost.

Tiger elevates this series above the other similar ones Iíve encountered. Anchoring the books with his wry humor and roguish self-confidence, Tiger displays his honor, courage, loyalty, intelligence and even some latent mystical power. He starts out as a chauvinistic pig who can only see Del as a beautiful bed-mate, but he learns through his relationship with her that women are capable of much more than he ever imagined, and heís not ashamed to admit that he was wrong in his earlier views. Tigerís hidden depths gradually emerge as he learns the truth about his origins, making him even more intriguing. You can keep your billionaire Roarkes or Navy SEALs - Iíll take this tough, scarred but loving sword-fighter as my fantasy man any day.

Itís harder to get a handle on Delilah because we only see her through Tigerís eyes, but she is a fascinating character as well. Devastated by a tragedy that destroyed her family, Del has dedicated her life to finding her brother and taking revenge. Sheís a brilliant fighter, albeit with a different style from Tigerís and an ability to sing her sword into brilliance. Thereís no softness in her, and her single-minded determination, at times, causes her to behave in selfish ways that lead to no small amount of pain for Tiger. She teaches him valuable lessons about a womanís right to choose her own life path, but itís difficult to like her very much. After the fourth book, however, she starts to loosen up a bit and shows glimpses of warmth and affection by the sagaís end. She may not be as charming as Tiger, but she earns the readerís respect.

By the time the saga ends in Sword-Sworn, characters old and new come together for a thoroughly satisfying, exhilarating climax. I gasped, laughed and cried (in that order) as I finished the series. Roberson says she has come to the end of Tiger and Delís story, but hints that someday she may return to their world to pick up the story in future generations. If the stories are as exciting and well-written as the Sword-Dancer saga, Iíll be eagerly awaiting them. I encourage you to enter Tiger and Delís world - for one book or for all six - and enjoy the time spent with these unforgettable characters.

--Susan Scribner

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