Review: A Cavern of Black Ice

Posted: October 14, 2009 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: J.V. Jones, Epic Fantasy

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…

A CAVERN OF BLACK ICE is an epic fantasy with a healthy dose of the dark and gritty feel that is sweeping the genre.

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.


  • Bejay says:

    Read the series a while ago and can only say “Aye!”. Great read, go pick it up.

  • -Slamel- says:

    Glad to see someone else has heard of the series and enjoyed it. It really is a shame that more people don't know about Jones. Maybe it was because her first series was so incredibly awful they wrote (haha! get it?) her off as an author.

  • Anotherevilbadguy says:

    I liked the book, havent got around to the next one yet though. One of the reasons it is underated is that her first series is really poor. It is very cliched with very little to help it. Saying that i did read the trilogy, but that was when i was starting out in fantasy, and possibly i brought them together. Does show that authours can improve, so you shouldnt always write someone off completly.

    As an aside why do you guys seem to hat bad language but are all about the violence? And Erikson does swear sometimes doesnt he? I should know for certain, seeing as i have read all his books at least 4 times. Anyways keep up your reviewing, i quite like your less serious approach to reviewing, even if i dont necessary agree with your views.

    • There are time when language doesn't bother me in the least. Locke Lamora for instance. How it is written makes it seem more part of the natural way people talk rather than, for example, “The Steel Remains” or “The Electric Church” where it seems there just to give the reader a false sense of “grittiness.”

      Erikson swears very occasionally, and it never feels tacked on. You may have a dozen swear-words in his novel of 300,000+ words, where as in The Electric Church you have a couple every page.

      What I'm getting at is the author's ability to express themselves using the English language as a tool rather than seeing how many f-words can be fit on one page.

      I don't dislike books with swearing at all, I'm just impressed when I notice a complete (or near) lack of swearing while still think “Man, this book is awesomely dark and gritty.”

      Also, most people are bothered more by swearing than violence. For me personally, and not speaking for Nick, a richly imagining and described scene of violence can show me an author's talent for writing.

      Thanks for reading the reviews! We love when people have comments or questions!

      • Anotherevilbadguy says:

        Thanks for the reply. I guess i understand that standpoint. Havent read electric church, but the swearing didnt bother me in The Steal Remains, but that was probably just as I had read Richard Morgan's Sci-fi stuff first, so I read it as still having that hard-boiled style, where swearing is quite suited. I felt that he actually had lessened is use of shock value, compared to his other books. Or at least linked it to the characters more realistically.

    • -Slamel- says:

      Swearing doesn't bother me in the slightest, in books, movies, or someone talking. It IS distracting, sometimes, in each of those cases though, when it is used in heavy excess. When reading Red Claw (which will be reviewed soon) there were sentences with three to five 'f' words. One sentence. That is piss-poor ability and judgment on the authors part.

      Like Steve said, a well done scene of violence can pull the reader into the story even more, but that requires the author to have some ability in his craft. Anyone can throw together a string of 'f' words and call it dialog.

      It isn't that we…I should say I, am all about violence but apprehensive about swearing. I have read, and love, books with absolutely no violence. I just view it, unless it is handled poorly, as a plot device or a furthering of the story, or conflict, etc. What does swearing bring to the table? A sense and hard-boiled, dark, grittiness? I don't think so. Show it to me in your writing. Don't tell me it is gritty.

      Show, don't tell. The ultimate rule of what makes a good author. That is why adverbs are usually a no no in dialog. “He said this sarcastically.” “She commented wryly.” The dialog itself, the characters personality, and their actions should be showing how they say what they do.

      Wow this is getting long. I had no idea I was writing an essay, so I'll end with this. Most of my favorite books have a great amount of swearing in it. So I'm not outraged or nauseated by it, I just prefer there to be a reason or to have it handled well, and for there not to be 12 or more 'f' words on one page. On a given page thats about 3 or 4% of the words. Authors who do this need to work on their craft, and their editors need to learn their profession.

  • Brett says:

    Great recommendation–I can't wait for the second book to arrive. How is this series not more well-known? I completely forgive you guys for causing me to read “Gardens of the Moon” šŸ˜‰

  • Steta says:

    how about some criticism to Jones for managing to stall the series forever?

    I've read the cavern of black ice back in 2001 and it was, and remains to this day, my top 4 (with song, farseer and malazan – not neceserally in that order) fantasy series.

    The second vol. came out in 2002 and that was fine but freaking vol. 3 (which was supposed to be the final one, but she decided to milk it i guess and opted to have a pentalogy instead of trilogy) and took an absurd 6!!! years to publish the third installment). Even George bloody Martin operates at a faster rate, and his books are twice as big.

    Apart from that, kudos to Jones and i pray the forth book will be on par with books 1 and 2.

    btw i had no idea Jones was a woman either untill i got pissed that book 3 wasn't coming out and visited her webpage.

  • Brett says:

    Just finished Book 3… and 4 (“Watcher of the Dead”) comes out next week.

  • Dylan says:

    I was wondering if you guys were going to review the rest of J.V. Jones' series. I'm just starting to get into the Cavern of Black Ice and I was really hoping you guys would review Books 2, 3, and 4.

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