The first book in a fantasy series but can be read as a stand alone.

Publication year: 1986
Format: print
Page count: 286
Publisher: DAW

Sandtiger is mercenary, or a sword-dancer as they’re called in this world. While he doesn’t like slavery, it’s a fact of life. When a gorgeous, blond Northern woman comes to him in a bar, looking for a slaver, Tiger knows she’ll be in a big trouble. He tries to help her, even though she doesn’t realize it at first. But when Tiger notices that she carries a sword, he thinks that she’s gone too far. Still, wanting to bed the exotic woman, he agrees to guide her to Julah, across the terrible desert.

The woman turns out to be Delilah, or Del, and she’s focused on a single mission: to find her younger brother who was taken captive and sold as a slave five years ago. The rest of her family was murdered, then. Tiger thinks her mission is insane, especially for a woman, but he humors her thinking he’ll charm her to his bed later.

But the desert if full of dangers from beasts to cannibals and slavers. Tiger does his best to protect the crazy woman against them all.

The only first person narrator in the book is Tiger. I thought Del was going to be a narrator also but she isn’t, she remains quite a mystery. Tiger can be frustrating at times but he’s also entertaining.

The world in this book is harsh. People will easily die in the desert but the humans are, as usual, the most terrible enemy. The Southern culture is based on slavery and the book gives us an unflinching peek at what it does to people: takes away their dignity, self-respect, and very life.

In these societies, women are second-class people at best, non-entities at worst. They need a powerful man to latch onto or they will be taken as slaves. Tiger reflects that culture: he simply doesn’t believe that Del can do anything. It’s also frustrating to the reader, when Del is denied again and again the chance to shine because Tiger steps in, literally.

This wasn’t an easy read because of the slavery and the way Tiger constantly puts down Del. And because of the misogynistic culture pervading the book. And the way that Tiger just has to sexualize every woman he comes across. And the way every man drools after Del.

Yet, there’s something compelling about the characters and the setting. I have the next book and I’m going to try it, at least.

The plot moves along at a good speed and gives constant twists and turns. I found that the desert was an interestingly different setting, although I’m a bit skeptical about the way the characters were supposed to survive it. No camels, for example.