The latest return to Tiger and Del's world has a few stumbles, but finishes strong.
As I mentioned in the last blog post, the Tiger and Del series by Jennifer Roberson has been one of my favorites for decades. After Sword-Bound seemed to wrap things up in a neat bow, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Roberson had written an eighth book in the series (with a ninth reportedly on the way!)
Sword-Bearer picks up right where the last one left off, on the heels of Tiger and Del defeating their nemesis, Umir, and rescuing Neesha's sister from bandits. In the six weeks since, the pair have returned home to domestic life to raise their young daughter and teach at their sword-dancer school.
Sword-Bearer marks a return to the vivid world of Jennifer Roberson’s highly popular Sword-Dancer saga, featuring iconic characters Tiger—the South’s most famous and gifted sword-dancer—and Del, a Northern-born woman and expert sword-singer.
Tiger and Del have settled into semi-retirement to raise their daughter, establishing a school for those who wish to become sword-dancers, part of a highly ritualized rite in which specially trained sword-fighters are hired to settle feuds among rich and powerful desert princes. Death-dances are few and far between; the goal is simply to win within the confines of “the circle.”
But Tiger is an outcast, a man who attained the highest level of achievement at the training school he attended faster than anyone before him, only to voluntarily break all oaths in order to save Del. By doing so, he made himself a target of men formerly his colleagues, now sworn enemies. He is constantly challenged to death-dances where rules, and oaths, no longer apply.
Now, with the world around them falling victim to a malignant Northern-born magic, Tiger gathers Del and his adult son, Neesha, to end the magic threatening the world—and discovers, along the journey, yet another element of magecraft within himself. Yet even as Tiger learns more about his gifts, Del comes face to face with the daughter she left behind so many years before.
The characterization, as usual, remains the best part of the story. Tiger and Del are great characters, both well-rounded and not without their flaws. I love how their relationship has grown through the books. Sword-mates and life-mates, they have a healthy bond that is based on mutual respect but not without its disagreements or conflicts. Their banter is always entertaining. Between the sword-dancer school, their rambunctious daughter, and the horses--I bet I'd enjoy an entire book centered solely around their day-to-day lives.
Side note about the horses: I have mad respect for the way Robserson manages to make them into side characters in their own right. They each have a distinct personality and contribute to the plot without veering into "Lassie" territory. And they do it all without even getting real names. Tiger's stud has always just been "the stud", and I was chuckling all through the first chapter at "Horse" and "Other Horse".
Since this is an adventure story, the characters don't stay settled for long before trouble finds them. Freak snowstorms and tornados are wrecking havoc on their desert town, and Tiger thinks someone is targeting him. Tiger and Del, accompanied by Neesha and Tiger's other two students, head off to find the person responsible.
The plot is not one of the strongest in the series, but it kept me engaged with adventure, drama, mysterious wild magic, and naturally a bunch of awesome sword-fights. It just felt a bit disjointed. The whole first half of the book builds up to a climactic confrontation with one of Umir's lackeys, but the resolution is a bit underwhelming. He just wasn't up to their caliber as an antagonist. Then it shifts gears abruptly to a different enemy: a former sword-singer turned bandit. Now there's a worthy opponent for Tiger and Del! But his presence here was just a teaser, with more to follow in the next book. I just wish this one had spent a bit less time on Umir's lackey and a bit more time with the rogue.
The only thing that really bothered me was the way the book handled Del's return to the north. She had been permanently exiled from there in Sword-Singer. Even though there was a legitimate reason to allow a temporary reprieve (to deal with the rouge sword-singer), everyone seemed exceedingly nonchalant about her turning up again. Also in Sword-Singer, Tiger and Del were forced into a death-dance as part of a plot to keep Del away from Kalle, the daughter she'd given up years before. I expected a lot more drama surrounding their reunion.
Still, the ending made up for any shortcomings. No spoilers here, so I'll just say that my jaw dropped open (in a good way). For those curious about my series rankings, I'd put this one in-between Sword-Singer and Sword-Bound on my list of favorites. In order from most to least favorite:
- Sword-Dancer (Book 1)
- Sword-Sworn (Book 6)
- Sword-Maker / Sword-Breaker (Books 3 & 4)
- Sword-Singer (Book 2)
- Sword-Bearer (Book 8)
- Sword-Bound (Book 7)
- Sword-Born (Book 5)
Roberson said in an interview on Paul Semel's blog that the ninth volume should be out later this year, and I can't wait. Check out the rest of the interview for some other juicy details:
- Princess Power:
- Bechdel Test: Fail
Learn about my Ratings System.