Jennifer Roberson,
(DAW, 1991)

In the three previous books of this series -- Sword-Dancer, Sword-Singer and Sword-Maker -- we met two very memorable main characters, the Sandtiger and Delilah. Tiger is a trained master of sword-fighting from the South of this fictional world, and grew up as a slave in the desert, until he saved his tribe from a deadly sandtiger that was killing off the tribe's children. Del, meanwhile, is from the cold, mountainous North, and was also trained as a sword-fighter, albeit with more ritual and magic involved. They go off on several adventures, trying to find Del's kidnapped brother, facing enslavement, facing death by marauders, facing each other in a dance-to-the-death sword fight, tracking down the man who killed Del's family and battling a legendary sorcerer.

Now, in the battle to defeat Chosa Dei, the legendary sorcerer, Tiger triumphed, but now Chosa Dei has infected Tiger's magic sword with his evil soul and keeps trying to control Tiger, escape from Tiger's sword, possess Tiger or Del, or all of the above. What do they do about Chosa Dei?

The legend has it that Chosa Dei and Shaka Obre, two brothers who were the greatest sorcerers of their time (millennia ago), turned the world into a lush paradise. Shaka Obre loved his masterpiece and wanted all humanity to enjoy it. Chosa Dei loved the power they had demonstrated by making paradise, and wanted to unmake it, so that they could do it over and over again, reveling in their magic. The brothers fought, with the end result that the world was divided into the cold, mountainous North (think of Norway), with Chosa Dei imprisoned in it, and the desert-wasteland South (think of Saudi Arabia), with Shaka Obre locked in a cave somewhere in it.

Tiger and Del thus figure that they must take Tiger's tainted sword, inhabited by Chosa Dei, into the South and find Shaka Obre, so the two brothers can settle their feud and leave Tiger's sword, and possibly his soul, safe from the evil Chosa Dei. This task is hampered by the fact that many people in the South think Tiger and/or Del killed their (false) Messiah, and a Southron princess wants to enslave and kill them slowly because they killed her father (to escape enslavement).

The first book, Sword-Dancer, was excellent, while the next two were very good, albeit with a few slow spots and some meandering. Sword-Breaker is the best of the bunch, with no slow spots, great writing, lots of action, many interesting characters and situations, and plenty of magic. Instead of just wrapping up all the loose ends and resolving the problems, Jennifer Roberson elevated the series with a stunning finale.

The relationship between Tiger and Del has evolved nicely, starting with open distrust and just-business, to bickering over gender stereotypes, to friendship, to passion, to love. Along the way, both grew as people, which was necessary, as Del was single-mindedly bent upon revenge and had no plan beyond killing the man who destroyed her family, and Tiger was renowned but was becoming stagnant in his fame.

Oh, and you might be surprised about the meaning of the title.

I also admire how well Roberson told the story from the first-person, in the voice of Tiger. I never felt this was a female author writing as a male, as she did the male voice well, and neither belittled nor exaggerated masculinity. This added an interesting aspect to the ongoing debate between Tiger and Del over gender roles.

by Chris McCallister
11 August 2007

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