I know J.V. Jones has written another series before the Sword of Shadows series but since I read this series first, I thought I’d start with this one. I had read this novel when I was about 14, in Dutch. Then I realized I couldn’t find the other books in Dutch in the library and switched to English. Which was a good idea, because I tend to like things better in their original language. Flow works differently in English than it does in Dutch. My own writing flows a lot better in English as well. Here’s my review of A Cavern of Black Ice, the first book in the Sword of Shadows series.
Raif Sevrance, yearman of Clan Blackhail, finds himself abandoning his clan. He leaves behind his older brother Drey and his young sister Effie. Clashes with the new Clan chief Mace, a horrifying incident involving women and children of Clan Bludd and a feeling of foreboding, cause Raif to join his Ranger uncle Angus on his trip to Spire Vanis.
Upon their arrival, they witness the capture of Ash March, foster daughter of the Surlord, by the Rive Watch. After liberating her, they travel together to Ille Glaive and Angus’ family. All the while they are being hunted by a sept of the Surlord, who wants his foster daughter back. Not because he loves her. But because he has use for her. Ash is a Reach. The key to open the prison of the Endlords; creatures of shadow and death. To Reach would mean to unlock the door and unleash those horrible creatures upon their world.
J.V. Jones is a very poignant writer. The way she makes Raif – a teenage boy – carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, and the way she keeps adding more and more worries and even other people’s problems, is simply an art form. There is a certain rhythm in the novel and it makes the reader experience highs and lows. Every character she writes, she portrays as a human being. She manages to make even ‘antagonists’ a tad likable.
What really drew me into this novel was Raif. Raif Sevrance who tried to do what’s right for his Clan and his family. Raif who lost his father, but didn’t even have time to properly mourn because Mace Blackhail declared war upon Clan Bludd and took the title of Clan chief. J.V. Jones made me root and cry for Raif and the obstacles he had to overcome. My heart broke every time it seemed all would be well and she just dumped another crisis on him. He never seems to get a break. Not physically, not mentally. People’s choices affect him and his fate but his own choices are always between two evils.
She made me hate and loathe Mace Blackhail, or the Hailwolf as he is also called. There’s absolutely no redeeming quality to him. He rapes, murders and manipulates to get what he wants. He wanted Raif out of the way, he got it. He wanted Raina – he made sure he got her. All the other antagonists, like Vaylo Bludd for instance are at least a bit likable. But not the Hailwolf. Never the Hailwolf.
A Cavern of Black Ice is a good example of a Sword & Sorcery and High or Epic Fantasy mix. There are the Clans, who believe in earth and wind and water. They abhor magic and prefer to war with weapons and what they call ‘jaw’. And yet their Clan guides dream for the newborn and pick out their lore. (Like that’s completely natural) In the cities magic and the Old Blood is more accepted, though still shunned and misunderstood.
J.V. Jones created a world in the Book of Words series and it seems The Sword of Shadow series takes place here too, just somewhere far away. Just like the Western world is different from the Eastern world, but they are both on earth. Some characters from her trilogy actually cross over into the Sword of Shadows series, which was both exciting and mind-boggling at the same time.
But moreover, Jones has created a character driven series. Raif is the driving force in the series, even though other characters like Ash and Angus (and in later novels Effie, Raina, Drey and other characters) are also considered ‘main’. The focus is on him. If you look at other series and novels written around that time (1999) like James Barclay’s The Legends of the Raven or Steven Erikson’s Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen; you can see that these stories are all character driven. Whether they focus on one character or an entire host.