Jennifer Roberson,
(DAW, 1986)

This is an epic fantasy story, this is an action-adventure story, this is a tale of revenge, this is a story of a quest. This is a love story, of sorts.

A woman walks into a bar and says, "I'm here to talk to a man about a horse." Well, not really. A beautiful woman walks into a bar, looking for a man called the Sandtiger, because she was told the Sandtiger could lead her to Osmoon the Trader, who might know someone who knows something about the woman's younger brother, who was kidnapped five years earlier in a raid by marauders, who killed everyone in the family except the woman (then a teenage girl), who escaped, and the boy, who was taken as a slave to be sold.

The woman is named Delilah, or Del, and she is on a quest to find her brother and punish the raiders who destroyed her family. She is also a highly trained sword-dancer, a warrior trained in the skills and lore of swordcraft. She is from the North, where the land is cold and mountainous.

The Sandtiger, or Tiger, is a Southron man who is also a sword-dancer, acting as a mercenary. He is renowned as the best sword-dancer in the South (just ask him, he'll tell you, without a trace of humility to taint the tale). The South is a hot, desert land. The South is also the home of the raiders who kidnapped Del's brother, and the South, where slavery is legal, is where Del's brother would've ended up.

Del and Tiger set off together, with Tiger as guide, in search of Jamail, Del's brother. Along the way, they bicker, they rub each other the wrong way, they doubt each other's skills. Of course, they end up being a great team, they come to respect each other, and maybe more. The quest is hard, and there are many setbacks, as there wouldn't be much of a story if they walked into the nearest village and found Jamail, safe and sound.

As the story progresses, Del gradually reveals her stormy past, and the tale of how she became a high-ranking sword-dancer, which is very rare for a woman, Northerner or Southron. We also gradually learn the dark story that lies beneath the mystique and the cheerful swagger of the Sandtiger.

This is a well-told tale of adventure, action and a noble quest. What makes it good, first and foremost, is the character development. The reader's first impression of Del and Tiger is that we have two stereotypical fantasy saga characters, but then we find out more and more, as they work through their differences and become a team. The writing is very good, and not only is the character development great, but there is also lots of action, including many sword fights, and a good description of the setting, both geographical and cultural. As Del is unfamiliar with the South, Tiger has to teach her about the land and the customs and culture, and we get to learn, right along with her. The lore and rituals that surround sword-dancing, in this fictive world, are complex and highly reminiscent of many martial arts, but with aspects of magic, especially for Del.

Overall, this is a fast-paced adventure-quest novel, with interesting characters and great contextual descriptions.

by Chris McCallister
20 January 2007

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