Review: A Cavern of Black Ice
A CAVERN OF BLACK ICE (Amazon), by J.V. Jones, was published back in 2005, and is the first in the Sword of Shadows series. The most recent entry to the series was A SWORD FROM RED ICE (Amazon) in 2008 and we are expecting the fourth book soon. When we tell people that J.V. Jones is one of our favorite authors, the most common response is, “Who?” So, instead of reviewing the latest book, we thought we would do this first book as an introduction to a series that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. And it deserves a ton.
Before Steve explodes from holding it in (it’s not what you think…), we need to say that we absolutely hate the covers for this series. All three of the books have ridiculously terrible covers, and we attribute part of the series’ obscurity to that fact. Books are judged by their covers all the time, and these covers scream “DON’T BUY US!!! WE ARE GENERIC AND TERRIBLE!!”
This is an Epic Fantasy with a healthy dose of the dark and gritty feel that is sweeping the genre. The story starts with Raif Sevrance’s clan being the victim of a horrible betrayal and he is the only rational one that sees the real culprit, which of course leads him into trouble. Ash March is kept prisoner by her ‘foster father’ in a big, cold, icy tower, that is basically the architectural equivalent of a white van with no windows, for reasons that are as malevolent as they are unknown (Yes that makes sense).
Right off the bat, the thing we love most about these books is the description. Jones description is something to be marveled and enjoyed. We have never read a book where the setting is so realized and tangible. The book takes place in an extremely cold region and there were times that we literally shivered (“I was in the pool!” Please tell us you know this reference…) reading it because J.V. Jones wrote the scene so well we could picture ourselves there. This is a sign of a fantastic writer. She (yes, Jones is female) does, however, have a tendency to introduce new elements in excessive detail at times, which contributes to one of the things we didn’t like about the book, listed below.
Perhaps one of the best parts of the series is this pervading sense of mystery that sticks with us as readers. Jones presents the story to us very slowly, introducing her world to the minute details, interspersed with action, while really only giving us hints of the big plot. This is a dangerous way to go, because without plot we don’t have a reason to read the book, but she handles it deftly and leaves us wondering, in a good way, what is going on. That’s not to say that readers of this book will be completely lost, as there is foreshadowing aplenty. In fact, at the end of the book something happens that we knew had to happen, but had been dreading (You know the kind of dread we are talking about here. Like when watching a horror movie, there is that dark house that you don’t want the character to go into…but you do.) happened. And Jones didn’t pull her punches at all. In fact, Jones doesn’t ever pull punches. She gives readers the harsh reality, regardless of how we might be screaming at the pages, “NOOO! Don’t do it!” Yeah. It happened. Nick’s neighbors were a little worried. Don’t worry, it only cost him a day or two in jail…
The characterization in this book is stellar. The major, and even minor players in this tale all are believable, do believable things, and act in ways that coincide with their personalities, beliefs, and motivations. (Something we loved after reading a couple books that lacked this lately.) The thing we didn’t like was that Raif, being a main character, of course couldn’t be unmagical (we can make up words if we want), and had to be given some magical quality to improve his fighting and archery skills–look, not every main character in a book HAS to be magically amazing. Sometimes the guy who doesn’t have the magic is the most important. This was pretty disappointing but Jones uses it to decent effect, so we can forgive her… we guess….
The pacing can be pretty rough, especially in the beginning. Both of us, in reading this, hit the 150 to 200 page mark wondering if the book was ever going to pick up. Whether it did, or we just became acclimated to Jones’ pacing is up for debate. Regardless, things move slowly. More slowly, even, than the norm for fantasy sagas.
People often ask us why we don’t review more female authors. The simple fact is that most female authors write for a female audience. Neither of us are female (except Nick on weekends…). When we first began reading Jones, we thought she was male (probably the reason for the J.V. rather than an obvious feminine name). When we realized J.V. was of the feminine persuasion, we unanimously declared, “Holy crud, Jones may be the best female fantasy author in print…” So, QUIT HARPING ON US!!! We like female authors just fine!
Dark, epic fantasy without the gratuitous shock value swearing and sex. This is what you get with Jones’ series. This should automatically make her a priority on your “Books to Read and Enjoy or Nick and Steve Will Kill Me” list. Grab the novels now!
- Recommended Age: We'll go with 15+. Pacing could be boring to younger folks, and some of the emotional themes might not be understood.
- Language: Nope. Proof, like with Erikson, that fantasy doesn't need insane amounts of language to be gritty.
- Violence: Yep and it is satisfyingly visceral and immediate
- Sex: A rape scene, handled with extreme tact (with actual realistic consequences--not just here for shock value), and a few other mentions of sex
Go give our fav. female some respect.