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Retro Friday Review: Sword-Dancer by Jennifer Roberson

I read Jennifer Roberson's historicals long before I discovered her fantasy books. But after downing her two Robin Hood retellings and one Scottish massacre novel, I discovered she was actually much better known for her earlier Sword-Dancer saga. I loved her historicals for being so character-driven. I loved them for their strong women. And I loved them for their chunkiness. So I went into Sword-Dancer--the first book of six in the Sword-Dancer saga--with a sense of happy anticipation but with no knowledge of what they were about. The covers are a mixed bag, the cover artist changing with every two books. I prefer the first artist, as the third is just cartooney looking, while the middle one makes my beloved Tiger and Del look like members of an 80s Glam Metal band. *shudder* Of course, right after I finished the series DAW re-released all six in three trade paperback omnibus editions, natch.
A look at the original cover for the first book and the cover of Volume I of the omnibus editions:














The story opens in a backwater cantina on the edges of the great Southron desert known as the Punja. The mighty sword-dancer the Sandtiger is ensconced in his usual corner, enjoying the wine (and the cantina girls), when in walks trouble in the form of a woman from the north with ice-pale hair, a sword strapped to her back, and vengeance on her mind. She gives her name as Del and seeks to hire Tiger to be her guide through the Punja on a journey to find her brother, free him from slavery, and kill the ones who stole him. Always up for a challenge, particularly when it comes in such a lovely package, Tiger agrees to her terms and the two set off. Amid sandstorms and sandtigers, in between venomous insults and first-rate swordfighting, these two opposites are forced to learn a few things about each other as well as themselves and Tiger, for one, realizes that when the dust settles the world as he knew it may be virtually unrecognizable.

I will just go ahead and start by saying you will not like Tiger at first. You will not like him at all. He is irascible and monumentally arrogant. He is a womanizer and lazy to go with it. And he narrates the story! But then he is a living legend, after all. He slew the sandtiger that was systematically decimating his village and has the claw-shaped scar on his cheek to prove it. He completed his master-level training at an unprecedented speed. To a certain degree, his attitude is to be expected. But you must remember this is how it begins. Trust the storyteller. Tiger has a long way to go and plenty of pages in which to make a transformation of sorts. And the wonderful thing, the thing that had me jumping up and down inside as I read this book for the first time, is the fact that Del is just as remote and prickly and hard as Tiger is annoying. Having sacrificed everything to exact revenge for her brother, she has given up most of her humanity along with it. And so it's not a case of her getting him to come around or him breaking through her icy exterior and either of them "fixing" the other. On paper they are the definition of heroes, but as you get to know them you realize how very far they really are from their outer personas. It takes guts to start a series off with two such difficult, problematic characters. But rest assured, by the time the end of the first book rolls around your hearts will be won over. The fighting is awesome, the stakes emotional and high, the magic complex and everchanging, and the romance subtle and stretching out over the whole series. I hope you'll want to continue on as each book gets better and better. Another wonderful example of a series staying true to itself. Reading order: Sword-Dancer, Sword-Singer, Sword-Maker, Sword-Breaker, Sword-Born, and Sword-Sworn. As usual, I highly recommend all six.

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Comments

  1. I am so glad I bought this when I bought Prince of Ill Luck. Woohoo!

    I just finished Suite Scarlett , by the way, loved it.

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  2. Ana, grin. Wonder which one you'll read first? Hm. Given the choice, wonder which one I'd read first? So glad you enjoyed SUITE SCARLETT. I just adore Spencer and found myself laughing out loud several times.

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  3. I love your wonderful pick for Retro Friday, I can definitely second that! :D

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  4. Thanks, Samantha! I'm happy to have it seconded. Would love to talk about the series with more people who've read it.

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  5. Angie, I just picked up this book the other day at the library. I couldn't remember who had recommended it, I'm thinking you must have mentioned it in a previous post? Anyway, I'm excited to dive in and meet Del & Tiger!

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  6. Kath, I did mention it in an under-the-radar post I did a little while back. I hope you enjoy this duo. They're both a little off putting in their own special ways at first. But I came to care about them very much. :)

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  7. I'm about to order this book or another one- whether it is fate or I didn't want to choose myself, your review makes me lean towards Sword Dancer, Sword Singer.
    So thank-you
    seahn

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  8. Wow! Great review - it makes me really really want to read it now =)
    I love it when you can trust the author to make a very annoying character into something endearing as the story progresses!

    --Sharry

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  9. Seahn, wow, you're welcome! I'm glad you got the first omnibus volume and hope you enjoy it very much.

    Sharry, thanks! I completely agree. I'm one who has to have a character I care about and so it's a talented author who can win me over from unsure to in love. :)

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  10. I think I will read Prince of Ill Luck first, because I love the funny. *g*

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  11. I loved these books! (And I'm glad that at least I don't have to add these to the list, too.) :-)

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  12. Ana, sounds good to me.

    Darla, ooh, I'm so glad to hear it. I just love Tiger and Del so much and was happy to follow them on all of their adventures.

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