Jennifer Roberson,
(DAW, 1989)

When we last left our heroes (at the end of Sword-Singer), Del, the Northern sword-singer, and Tiger, the Southron sword-dancer-turned-sword-singer, had been forced into battle, and it was unclear who survived.

Sword-Maker starts with Tiger stalking the hounds of Hoolies (unearthly beasts of magic) that had stalked him and Del as they journeyed into the North. He won the sword-dance in the Northern home of sword-training, Staal-Ysta, and left Del to die. As he tracks the beasts, and they try to harass him, he finds that Del survived, although with major injuries. With the two having almost killed each other, the tension is thick between them, but they team up and go after the hounds. This leads them to a great sorcerer, Chosa Dei, who was long ago defeated by his sorcerer-brother, Shoka Obre, and imprisoned in a cave. Chosa Dei has been plotting his escape, through rather foul means, and a battle ensues between Del and Tiger vs. Chosa Dei, with Tiger being victorious. But, that's too easy! Chosa Dei is dead, but his spirit is imprisoned in Tiger's sword, and the sorcerer strives to escape, possess Tiger or both.

Meanwhile, rumors abound of a messiah who will unite the nomadic tribes of the South, overthrow the tanzeers (princes) and turn the sand to grass. Hmm, sounds a bit like Frank Herbert's Dune, but it isn't. Is the messiah real or a scam? Will Del finally find Ajani, the man who, as we learned in the first book, Sword-Dancer, killed her family? People from all over are gathering to see the arrival of the messiah, and Ajani might be there. Will Tiger survive his own sword and learn to control it? Can he get it cleansed of the demon? Will Tiger's horse kill him? He's a mean horse! And, how many old acquaintances will Tiger and Del encounter? All of them, I think.

This is a better-than-average segment of a better-than-average fantasy saga. It is written well, although there is some repetitiveness ("Hoolies!"), and it keeps slipping into travelogue mode, with Tiger and Del going from here to there to there, and they keep encountering either characters from earlier in the story, or from their respective pasts, in a way that starts feeling formulaic or at least repetitive. However, the headstrong, obsessed Del and the somewhat arrogant but grumpy Tiger are a pair of interesting characters. They have an ongoing battle-of-the-sexes, with lots of debate, bickering, sniping, teasing and moments of passion, genuine friendship and mutual respect (although they would both have trouble admitting it).

The bottom line might be that this above-average 464-page book could have been an excellent 350-page book. It is still a good read, if a bit slow and meandering at times.

by Chris McCallister
21 April 2007

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