Jennifer Roberson's new novel, Sword-Born offers a welcome revisit to the lives of the brawny, easy-going sword-for-hire, Tiger, and his more intense sword-wielding companion and lover, Del.
In this fifth installment of the Sword Dancer Saga, Tiger and Del undertake a journey to learn the mystery of Tiger's origins. Along the way, Tiger's engaging account of his adventure consists of extensive dialogue leavened with introspection and adventure; he recounts his capture by pirates, his reunion with possible relatives, and his confrontation with a magical heritage. Good stuff, covering both old
and new ground in Tiger and Del's lives.
As Sword-Born opens, a sea-journey is taking Tiger and Del away from a harrowing near-past filled with slavery, ensorcellment, and life-or-death sword duels. Having reason to suspect that Tiger might trace his roots to the island of Skandi, Del prompts Tiger to travel there. That both sword-fighters have become outcasts in their respective homelands aids the decision.
Things quickly go from bad (Tiger is hideously sea-sick) to worse (pirates force their vessel to wreck itself on reefs). The Skandian pirates, realizing that ransom is out of the question since the only thing Tiger and Del have is each other, take advantage of Tiger's
quest for his origins. They hold Del hostage to force Tiger's cooperation in a daring con. In light of his background, they decide that Tiger is to present himself as the lost grandchild of one of the most powerful and wealthy matriarchs in Skandia. The twist is that she very well might be his grandmother.
The fascinating island of Skandia is ruled by eleven families who believe themselves descended from the gods through the matriarchal line. They've amassed both great wealth and power and command a belief in their divinity from Skandians. Those few family members, all of whom appear to be men, who begin to display magical abilities
are considered dangerous madmen and driven off to the monasteries of an adjacent island. There they can expect to live for up to fifteen years after the birth of their magic before they're destroyed.
This is the setting into which Tiger is thrust. With his options held in check by the maneuvers of his captors, Tiger has to balance his desire to discover a home and family with his need for freedom. A manipulative, iron-willed maybe-grandmother, a resentful young maybe-cousin, a ruthless pirate infatuated with Del, her tortured magic-wielding first mate, and a mad priest-mage all force Tiger into a recognition of his own maturity, a crisis of rebirth, and a sense of peace with his own identity.
One of the joys of reading Sword-Born is witnessing the deep bond of friendship, loyalty, love and respect that Tiger and Del have forged between each other. Their obvious chemistry permeates almost all their scenes together. But the surprises in this book don't come from the lovers' now steady relationship. Rather, the suspense in the plot is generated by the mystery of Tiger's past. Is he the long-lost grandson? Will a birthright be forced upon him anyway? Why is he allergic to magic? Who's going to betray him? Can he and Del win their freedom? These questions made Sword-Born an easy page-turner heading towards an exciting and dramatic climax.
The only quibble? Unfortunately, for all her clear importance to Tiger, Del held a somewhat ancillary position throughout the novel. Now that her own quest is over, she says, "Oh, there is more song yet to be sung. The undiscovered song, made as we move." It's a terrific reason to anticipate the forthcoming Sword-Sworn.
P.S.-Those readers who dislike jumping into a series in the middle for fear of being lost in the story don't need to fret. Roberson provides plenty of backstory in Sword-Born, highlighting all the important progression of events of the previous four novels.