Jennifer Roberson

Books: Fantasy

Chronicles of the Cheylusi: Shapechangers (1984), The Song of Homana (1985), Legacy of the Sword (1986), Track of the White Wolf , A Pride of Princes (1988), Daughter of the Lion (1989), Flight of the Raven (1990), A Tapestry of Lions (1992)

The Sword Dancer Saga: Sword Dancer (1986), Sword Singer (1988), Sword Maker (1989), Sword Breaker (1991), Swordborn (1998), Sword-Sworn (2002)

Lady of the Forest (1992), The Golden Key (1996)


Return to Avalon (1996), Highwaymen: Robbers and Rogues (1997), Murder by Magic (2004)

I first ran across Jennifer Roberson in MZB's Sword and Sorceress anthologies, with her stories about the Cheylusi. I very much liked the Tiger and Del stories, I have had a much harder time getting into the Chronicles of the Cheylusi. Lady of the Forest is a retelling of Robin Hood.

The Novels of Tiger and Del

Sword-Dancer (1986), Sword-Singer (1988), Sword-Maker (1989), Sword-Breaker (1991), Sword-Born (1998), Sword-Sworn (2002)

Sword-DancerI am quite fond of the first book in this series, Sword-Dancer. I like the characters, I like the writing, and I like the story. I particularly like Tiger, who sounds quite a bit like he's channeling Robert Parker's Spenser, only in a fantasy realm instead of Boston. I like "hearing" the internal thoughts of characters. I believe it also made some of the more difficult parts about Del's past easier to read.

Sword-SingerThe story follows two characters, Tiger, a Southern male sword-dancer, and Del, a Northern female sword-dancer, as Del seeks to recover her brother and wreak revenge upon the bandit who destroyed her family and her life, as it had been. As they traverse theSouth, they have to deal with not only the natural hazards of the desert, but also a culture thatdoes not accept independent women. (The fact that the story is written from the point-of-view of Tiger, the male character, makes this all the more interesting.)

Sword-MakerThere is plenty of sword-fighting and horseback riding and general adventure--more than enough to keep the feminist undercurrent from becoming overpowering. It's a good adventure.

Unfortunately, for me, the rest of the series never lived up to the first book. The story is for the most part still good (with the possible exception of the fifth book, which I just found bizarre) but I just didn't find the books as compelling as the first.

Sword-BreakerI think my biggest problem with the later books is that there was more book than story. I liked the stories, however I found myself skimming to move things along faster. I think they would have been much stronger had they been the 275 pages of the first book rather than the 400 and some pages of the last two books.

There Sword-Bornwas an occasional problem with the point-of-view. Because the books are written from a first person point-of-view, when she shifts the point of view in an attempt to create suspense the tone is quite jarring, and instead of leading to feeling of suspense, instead leads you to a sense of plot device. Although the transition became smoother in the later books, it was still uncomfortable and uneasy.

Sword-SwornOf course having all six books does remove a certain level of suspense as well. If they didn't survive, then what are the rest of the books about?

A minor gripe: The fourth book, Sword-Breaker, has the Worst Cover Ever. Both characters look like refugees from an 80s hair band. I wanted to cover the book in brown paper, so no one would see that I was reading a book with one of those covers. Which is too bad because I quite liked the covers of the first two books. (One last complaint about the covers. Jennifer Roberson continually describes Tiger as clean-shaven, and even talks about the difficult time he has shaving around his scars, yet every cover has him with a beard. I hate inconsistencies like that.)

So although the series has a good start, and the tale is good, the overall quality is such that I'd recommend picking the books up used or borrowing them.

The Golden Key (1996) Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson, Kate Elliot

At 889 pages, The Golden Key is a very long book. Admittedly, I have not had a lot of time for reading, but even so, more than a week for me to read a book is really slow. Part of the reason is that the first third of the book was slow going. There are a good number of foreign words sprinkled through the story, and I didn't find the glossary until I was nearly finished. As much as I hate flipping back a forth, checking the glossary from the start would have this book far easier to read. Well, that and a better knowledge of Latin/Spanish.

The book is set in three general time periods, 943 to 950, 1262 to 1286, and 1315 to 1316, and follows two families. The do'Verradas are the ruling family in Tira Virte and the Grijalvas are an extended family of painters, struggling to regain influence, despite the taint of their blood.

Unsurprisingly, from Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson and Kate Elliot, come three strong female characters for the three time-lines: Saavedra, Mechella, and Eleyna. All things considered, I think I like Saavedra the best, although that may just be because she had things the hardest, which is interesting, because I had the most trouble with her part of the story.

I very much like how each woman takes the power available to her, and uses it to the best of her ability. I love strong female characters, whether they're swordswomen or using feminine wiles.

However, what I like the absolute most about this book is the cover. I love the cover. It's nearly perfect. The painting of Saavedra is precisely as described in the book--I wish it was more prominent. The only thing part of the cover that was not as described in the book was the painting that Sario seems to be working on. That painting seems to be a compilation of ideas, none of which are quite accurate with the story. But aside from that, the color and the pictures and the clothing--it all is nearly precisely as described, which is not just perfect, but also amazing. I've found it rare for a cover to get so many elements of a book just right.

Make sure that you pay attention to the Pientraddos Historricos part at the very beginning. Although it is describing various paintings, it is also relating the history and background to the start of the story.

One thing I would have appreciated was a who's who in addition to the glossary. I kept forgetting the names of Mechella's children, and which Grijalva was sibling to which, all of which made for a lot of flipping back and forth through the book, because in nearly 900 pages, it was hard to keep track of everyone.

A major negative is the book as an object. Although the pages are not falling out, several of them were cut badly, or were crooked, which made reading the book rather difficult in places. That and the fact that it had the smeary ink that got all over my hands if I wasn't careful. Of course one would hope that new printings might not suffer from those problems, but you might want to check anyway.

And one thing that annoyed me. I don't see why Eleyna's infertility couldn't have been solved in the same way that Grand Duke Renayo's "problem" was solved. I think that the authors just didn't want to solve that problem, because the solution seemed obvious to me.

All in all, this is a pretty good book. The characters are compelling and interesting, and the story--once it got going--is excellent. It's slow in the beginning, but picks up, especially in the second and third portions of the book. And although the story is good, it was full of intrigue and politics, so it was relatively easy to put down at night so I could go to bed, which was a good thing.

Rating: 7/10


Return to Avalon (1996) edited by Jennifer Roberson

Published by DAW

Highwaymen: Robbers and Rogues (1997) edited by Jennifer Roberson

Published by DAW

Murder by Magic (2004) edited by Rosemary Edghill

I love fantasy, and I love mysteries, so I figured that this should be a great short story collection. After all, I've read some excellent fantasy mysteries recently, such as those written by Charlaine Harris and Simon R. Green. This collection, however, was a mixed bag. For one thing, it look me about three months to read. I'd zip through a couple of stories, and then get bogged down in a story that took days to read, and then I set it aside for something else that looked more interesting.

The problem with several of the stories seemed to be that the ability to write good fantasy does not mean the ability to write good fantasy, and vice versa.

But there are some excellent stories in this collection.

Rating: 5/10