by Jennifer Roberson

Cover image

Series: Sword #5
Publisher: DAW
Copyright: 1998
Printing: March 1999
ISBN: 0-88677-827-1
Format: Mass market
Pages: 416

Buy at Powell's Books

I'm tempted to recommend this book to people even without reading the previous books of the series. Roberson is coming back to the universe after a hiatus of over five years and does an okay job of filling the reader in on the series background over the course of the story. This is also a better book than the first four in the series although, in the end, it likely would appeal to the same audience. You do lose depth and background by reading this book without reading the previous volumes, though.

After Sword-Breaker, most of the dangling plot hooks had been dealt with and a mostly satisfying conclusion had been written for the original four-book series. Roberson then took a break of several years, something that I think would benefit other fantasy series. In Sword-Born, she returns with fresh ideas, a different setting, and, most importantly, noticeably improved writing skills.

The best part about these books was always the strong first-person narrator and the stream-of-consciousness feeling to the story-telling, full of Tiger's short nuggets of thoughts, tumbling over each other to make it onto the page. The rest of Roberson's style sometimes left something to be desired, though; the books were occasionally padded and flabby, the plotting at times random or coincidental, and the repetition and recounts of previous events were tedious and clunky. All of this has improved. Roberson has clearly benefitted from the intervening years, and this book, although as long as previous volumes, is noticeably tighter, better-plotted, and better thought-out. The recaps are still a touch clunky, but, I think because Roberson is more willing to narrate through them instead of forcing them into the mouths of her characters, they go a bit more smoothly than before.

This is still sword and sorcery fare, where the main characters are just a little better, stronger, and more powerful than everyone else. The Sword series is part of its genre, not a ground-breaking divergence. Within that context, though, Roberson does like to play with conventions; the ongoing discussion of women's roles continues here, and this volume adds homosexuality to the mix of places Tiger's South-trained attitudes have to change. There are also moments where it looks like Tiger is going to turn out to be the long-lost heir to a great fortune and power, except then things become far more muddled, and in the end it really doesn't matter if he was or not. It's good to read a fantasy novel about a hero who's competent because he's been around for lots of years, he's been through a lot, and his knees ache and his joints pop.

Tiger spends a fair bit of the book teaching, something that his personality is particularly well-suited for (and which gives me high hopes for the next book). In a nice touch, Tiger and Del, who used to always snipe with each other in public, start backing each other up, a well-handled change of emotional tone that ties in with a maturing of their relationship. The characters are all vivid and deep, even the supporting characters, more well-rounded than the typical sword-and-sorcery or epic fantasy cast, or even than the previous books (Prima is among my favorite characters of the series).

Sword-Born won't knock you over. Even with a more complex plot, it's still standard sword and sorcery fare, complete with plot coincidences and larger-than-life characters. Some of the explanation is still a bit clunky and repetitive, and I found parts of the last section of the book, the parts dealing most directly with magic, to be slow and less interesting. But it's solid genre work, and I recommend it highly for undemanding fare. Certainly if you've read this far in the series, don't stop before this book; it's the best so far.

Followed by Sword-Sworn.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-08-15

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