Tag Archives: magic

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

Book Review: Sorcerer’s Son

Book Name: Sorcerer’s Son
Author: Phyllis Eisenstein
First Published: 1979

Phyllis Eisenstein was born in 1946 in the city of Chicago, and has lived in Illinois for most of her life. During the time that she attended the University of Chicago, she attended one of the weekly meetings of the city’s science fiction fandom and met her future husband, Alex. They were married in 1966 and remained in Illinois until her husband, a member of the US Air Force, was posted in Germany. She followed him to Europe and they remained there for three years, returning to Chicago after his honorable discharge from the service.

Once the couple returned home, Eisenstein took up writing professionally. Her husband became her writing partner on several of her books and short stories. Her first two stories published in 1971. Heartened by this, she returned to college to gain a BA in anthropology from the University of Illinois.

After publishing several novels, including Sorcerer’s Son, Eisenstein became a writing teacher. At first she assisted author Roger Zelazny at the Indiana University Writer’s Conference in 1977. She went on to teach at the at Michigan State University, Oakton Community College of Skokie, and the Writer’s Digest School. For twenty years she was on the faculty of Columbia College Chicago, where she taught classes in general science fiction, fantasy and an advanced science fiction writing course. Eisenstein received an “Excellence in Teaching” Award from CCC in 1999 and remained on the faculty for another ten years before she retired. Eisenstein split her later years of teaching at CCC to also working full-time in advertising. She is currently the executive manager of copy editors at a large Chicago advertising agency.

When Eisenstein retired from teaching in 2009, it was with the intent to return to writing. She is continuing to focus her attention on short stories and novellas, although a new novel series is in the works. Her latest short story is called Sunstone and appears in George R.R. Martin’s 2013 anthology Old Mars.

Sorcerer’s Son begins when the sorceress of Castle Spinweb, the beautiful Delivev Ormoru, rejects the advances of the sorcerer Smada Rezhyk. Demonmaster Rezhyk suffers from paranoia and assumes that if a woman refuses to marry him, then it is because she is secretly plotting his destruction. Rezhyk summons his favorite demon, Gildrum, and bids the demon to go to Delivev, seduce her, and get her pregnant. In the pregnant state, a sorceress’s power is diminished and Rezhyk plans to use this time to prop up his defenses from the attack he is certain is to be coming. Delivev does not realize that the child she carries is biologically Rezhyk’s. Instead, she believes it to be the son of the young knight she rescued at her gates and fell in love with. Instead of aborting the child, as Rezhyk had assumed, she carries the baby to term.

When Delivev’s son grows up, Cray Ormoru determines that he will become a knight like his father and sets out on a quest to discover why the man mysteriously disappeared, breaking his promise to return, and thus broke his mother’s heart. Along the way, the demon Gildrum watches over him, as he has done throughout Cray’s life and aids the knight want-to-be on his quest. The demon has become humanized through all his years of interacting with human beings. Gildrum feels love for Delivev and he has come to love Cray as if he were his own son. Yet, Gildrum is bound as a slave to the demonmaster and is not free to return to them although he would wish it.

As Cray follows the cold trail of the knight he believes to be his father, the conclusions he learns about the man become impossible. He realizes that as a knight, he will never learn the truth about Sir Melor (Gildrum) and that the only way to learn the information he wants is to become a demonmaster and force a powerful demon to answer his question. Cray turns to the only demonmaster that he knows, Rezhyk, and asks to become his apprentice.

Rezhyk accepts Cray as an apprentice, intending to not teach him anything, for the sorcerer fears that Cray is Delivev’s means to exact revenge on him. However, Gildrum secretly teaches Cray the knowledge that he needs to become a demonmaster so that Cray might free him from bondage. The story moves into new directions at this point that is not only logical, but is emotionally believable, leading to a satisfying conclusion.

Phyllis Eisenstein is an easy author to overlook. While she has published six novels and around 40 short stories, most of which are in major science fiction magazines, because the bulk of her work was published in the late 1970s and 1980s, new readers might not be as aware of her as an author as they should be. Sorcerer’s Son was the first Eisenstein novel that I read and it has stuck in my mind ever since. I honestly believe it is her best novel overall. While it is a simple coming of age story, the novel expands into concepts of slavery, love, and the loss a parent feels when a child matures and leaves home. The feelings that it engenders in the reader are strong and if you are a lover of fantasy novels, this one will not disappoint. If you are an adoptee, it will resonate with you even more.

Sorcerer's Son Book CoverSorcerer’s Son is difficult to find, although it has undergone several reprints by Del Rey down the years. You can purchase used copies on Amazon or search through your favorite used book store for a copy. I still have a first edition copy in my stacks, but I purchased it new back in 1979 when it first came out. Sorcerer’s Son is the first book of a trilogy, the second novel, The Crystal Palace, continues the story of Cray Ormoru and both books can be found in an Omnibus that was published in 2002. The third novel of the trilogy, The City in Stone, was completed by the author, but due to her publishing company going out of business, the book became orphaned and was never published. It is my hope that one day it will be and we can finish reading the story about Sorercer Cray Ormoru at long last.

The Book of Elementals

Sorcerer’s Son (1979)
The Crystal Palace (1988)
The Book of Elementals (omnibus of Book I and II) (2002)
The City in Stone (completed but unpublished)