by Jennifer Roberson

Cover image

Series: Sword #6
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: 2002
Printing: February 2003
ISBN: 0-7564-0099-6
Format: Mass market
Pages: 429

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This is the final book in the six-book Sword series and a direct sequel to Sword-Born, so while it does stand on its own reasonably well, I wouldn't really recommend it as a starting point for the series. There is, though, enough recap of what had gone on before (sometimes presented clunkily) that you don't have to have just read the previous books.

While most of this series has been stock, if well-written, sword and sorcery adventure, the previous book Sword-Born went a slightly different direction. There was a bit more exploration, a bit of political intrigue, a new take on magic, and a different view of the leading protagonists. I was hoping for more of the same. Sword-Sworn, however, returns to the basic formula of this series to finish things off.

Tiger and Del have returned to the South, not exactly sure what they're going to do next but planning to pursue Tiger's dream of becoming a sword-dancer instructor. Quickly, direction materializes in the form of strange dreams that Tiger is having, dreams that seem linked to his untapped magic and to his past (Tiger seems strangely blind to the latter, but it was obvious to me from the very beginning). From there, there are the expected dangers of the southern deserts, evil warlords, and sword fights (a few more of them, and better ones, in this volume than in some of the previous ones). At times, it looks like the magic sub-plot will go somewhere interesting, but it unfortunately turns out to be mostly prosaic. There are a few good twists, but nothing horribly memorable.

The same is true of the decisions about Tiger's future, and Del's for that matter. The major plot twist is one that I enjoyed, but saw coming a little ways in advance. Everything plays out fairly predictably. I still got a lot of visceral satisfaction out of watching the characters do what they do well and banter with each other, but there wasn't the sense of subtlety or stretching in new directions that Sword-Born had.

I do like Roberson's take on magic in this world, though, and I'm glad that even with magic front and center in the plot, she keeps it elusive, strange, and subjective. There is one book of spells, which seems oddly out of place compared to the rest of the magical system, but Tiger's experience with magic is very unlike that of the typical fantasy hero. Having magic is not clearly a good thing, you don't ever know all the details of what's happening, and any given magical style requires many years of study to truly understand. I'd like to see more of that degree of subtlety in magical systems; it's harder to pull off well than the detailed nuts-and-bolts magic systems that are more common, but when handled properly, it provides a nice sense of mystery and wonder.

This is a nicely reliable fantasy series that, except for a bad stumble in the second book, will give you enjoyable and predictable adventure with good first-person narration. If this final book had picked up from Sword-Born and revisited the world with a deeper plot, it would have stood out more. As is, it's light entertainment when one is in the mood for novel-length sword and sorcery. This final volume wraps up the story satisfyingly, but doesn't move it out of that category.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-09-28

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