Sword-Singer

by Jennifer Roberson

Cover image

Series: Sword #2
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: September 1988
ISBN: 0-88677-447-0
Format: Mass market
Pages: 382

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Despite an awkward and clunky recap of the events of the first book at the beginning of this one, you don't want to read Sword-Singer without reading Sword-Dancer first. The story is much better in its original form.

One thing that I like about this series is that it doesn't follow the typical sequence of a big fantasy series. There isn't a lurking evil that grows in power over the course of the series until it has to be dealt with in the final volume. There isn't an overall plot that just gets shuffled around in the middle books. Instead, there's a clear plot arc in each book that's resolved at the end of the book, just leaving some loose ends for the next volume. The part of this book that deals with the loose ends from the first is quite good. Unfortunately, that's only the last hundred pages or so.

I'm not sure Roberson really knew what she wanted to do with the second book. Partly, I think she wanted to give a tour of the North from Sandtiger's perspective, after spending the last book in his beloved South. Eventually, of course, the open question of Staal-Ysta and Del's fate must be dealt with. But the latter doesn't get started until the end, and the former is handled with what feels like rolls from a random encounter table.

Admittedly, the first book featured a fair number of coincidental encounters in order to run the characters past several interesting inhabitants of the South. It gave the impression of a reason for those encounters, though, and carried a sense of direction. Sword-Singer is just random. Tiger stumbles into various mythological creatures of the North for no obvious reason, is followed around by creatures who are left as an unexplained dangling plot hook, and gets smacked around most every time he sees anything new. I'd hate the North too.

Combine that with the rough start and plot recap and most of this book falls flat. This is the weakest book of the series; even Tiger and Del's banter doesn't seem to flow as well. The only salvaging factor is that the ending, once we get back to the business of swords and the main plot line, is excellent, with hard conflicts, few emotional cop-outs, and a really surprising finale.

I still enjoyed this book for the last third, and Roberson does weave her random encounters into the rest of the story in upcoming books, but this is mostly a slog. It's unfortunate to have such a flat note early on in the series, since it may scare off people who would like the third and fourth books much better. It's not a great book in its own right; the only reason to stick with it is that you have to have the background to set up the next story.

Followed by Sword-Maker.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-07-31

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21