Book Review: Sword-Dancer

Book Name: Sword-Dancer
Author: Jennifer Roberson
First Published: 1986

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, author Jennifer Roberson has lived in the state of Arizona since 1957. She started out in Phoenix, but in 1999, she moved to a home on 2.5 acres of rural land at the foot of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff. She gained a bachelor of science in journalism from Northern Arizona University with an extended major in British history. While studying at the University of London during her last semester, Roberson was able to visit historical sites in Scotland and Wales. These travels would later inspire much of her historical fiction and influence her fantasy works.

Jennifer Roberson is a prolific author, with two dozen novels completed and more on the way. Her most famous series is the Sword-Dancer Saga, but her Cheysuli series is also extremely popular with fantasy readers. In addition to the novels, she has written numerous short stories and has edited several fantasy anthologies. In 1996, Roberson collaborated with fantasy authors Melanie Rawn and Kate Elliott on a book called The Golden Key that was a finalist for the World Fantasy Awards in 1997.

Sword-Dancer starts in a faraway cantina on the edge of the Southron desert, known to the natives as the Punja. The great sword-dancer Sandtiger is enjoying a glass of wine and the cantina girls, when a beautiful Northern woman with silver hair and wearing a sword strapped to her back enters, seeking to hire Sandtiger as a guide. Del is on a quest to free her little brother from slavery and to kill the bandits that took him five years ago. Always up for a challenge and to make a few coins, especially when it comes in a lovely package, the sword-dancer agrees to guide her. He has many doubts that she will succeed in her quest, not so much because of her ability, but simply because she is a woman. The Sandtiger comes from a culture where women are property and have little say in their own destiny. He is not quite sure what to make of an independent woman who can handle a sword as well as he can, but he finds it a bit of a turn-on and so he follows to see where this adventure might lead.

Tiger, while the narrator of the story, is hard to take at first. He is an arrogant womanizer, although not without a sense of humor. The arrogance might be excused due to his master-level skill with the blade, but most women will cringe when they are first introduced to this rascal. Between the flying insults to each other, the two master sword wielders battle sandstorms and sandtigers, taking on each conflict as it comes to them. Tiger begins to recognize that the ways of his world do not quite fit him as it once did. Del also begins to change as she lets down her icy guard and learns to trust the sword-dancer at her side.

The plot of this novel is not the most intriguing, consisting of a great deal of episodic fighting, although the ending will be very satisfying. That is not what makes this sword and sorcery fantasy tale so riveting. It is the powerful character arcs that both Tiger and Del go through that will keep you spellbound and make you a true fan by the conclusion of the first book. Each book in the series gets better as you go along. The fighting is superb, the magic is interesting, and the romance is ongoing and heartfelt, giving the story an edge of reality that few fantasy novels reach.

The first novel by Jennifer Roberson I ever read was Sword-Dancer back when it first came out in the 1980s. She was a relatively new author at that time, but the book captivated me with the remarkable portrayal of its two main characters. I am a writer who is more character driven than plot driven, so Roberson’s writing style appeals to me strongly and I credit her as one of my main writing influences. Sword-Dancer was out of print for a long time, but it is now available once again both as a printed and an ebook. Look for the three omnibus volumes that contain the first six novels of the series. Roberson has not left the Punja as yet. She is busy writing more Sword-Dancer novels even now. I can’t wait to read the next one.

Sword-Dancer Book CoverSword-Dancer Saga:

Sword-Dancer (1986)
Sword-Singer (1988)
Sword-Maker (1989)
Sword-Breaker (1991)
Sword-Born (1998)
Sword-Sworn (2002)
Sword-Bound (2013)
Sword-Bearer – Forthcoming

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