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on April 23, 2002
A Cavern of Black Ice is the first part of the story of Raif Severance, a young exiled clansman, and Asharia "Ash" March, the runaway step-daughter of a city's sorcerer-lord. Their stories begin separately but merge into one, as Ash--inside of whom a massive, frightening power is building--must reach the legendary Cavern, the only place where Ash can discharge the power without breaching the world of the damned. The story thus becomes a race against time and the merciless elements of Jones' northern lands.
Jones deserves credit for painting such a _different_ landscape: stark, vivid, and breathtakingly cold. Breath instantly condenses to ice crystals on fur-lined hoods; eyelids freeze shut in the night; and wounds and frostbite . . . it's all very intense, to say the least. Some may find all of this engaging; others may find it an exercise in shock-value. Personally, a bit of each appears to be true.
Jones writes with a brutal power of description, frequently employing creative and graphic similes which sometimes work and sometimes are just too over the top. The book is _very_ long and could have been shortened without much loss, and some parts are confusing and need a bit more explanation of the history and powers involved. (And some are simply designed to bait hooks for the next volume.) The supporting characters and villagers--they, their names and voices never quite find a comfortable niche, falling somewhere between medieval Scots and American hillbillies. Though often described in detail, the main characters themselves are not especially unique (with the exception of Magdalena Crouch, assassin), yet you find yourself caring for the young heroes, alone in the deadly wilderness on their desperate quest.
A solid, graphic, often gripping effort, yet one that demands significant time and attention and seems to require much more reading for an appreciable payoff. Recommended for mature, hard-core fantasy readers.
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on August 15, 2016
Be awrare. While this is a good start to a series... she has basically chosen not to finish the series... avoid this book until she completes the series...
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on December 23, 2015
Another fantasy novel that I wanted to like but it failed my torture porn and interesting character tests. By torture porn, I mean that the main characters get the crap beat out of them or come close to dying due to fighting or (in this book) extreme weather but somehow get saved at the bell or struggle through to survive somehow. I get it that this is a violent world and there is plenty of graphic violence, but some of the characters were beaten down so badly that there shouldn't have been any way for them to survive. The writing is good, the world pretty interesting, but the way the characters grew just wasn't enough for me. I checked the later books in the series and some reviews said that the characters hardly developed, along with little happening in the plot, so I won't be reading any more of the series.
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on October 17, 2007
While I await my copy of the third book of Sword of Shadows; Sword from Red Ice, I'm re-reading the first two books of what may be my all time favorite epic series. For A Cavern of Black Ice, which I first read back in 2000, it's my 3rd reading and it's still just as much fun and exciting as the first time.

I've read all of J. V. Jones's books and I've enjoyed every one of them. The Book of Words Trilogy and The Barbed Coil are both good stories that have cozy kinda feel to them that only adds to the entertainment value. But this Sword of Shadows series, takes Ms. Jones to a whole new level. She creates her worlds for the reader by bringing you home to it with little, local details that introduce the most interesting cultures. And she has gift for creating characters that are truly endearing. Plus, there's no watering-down of the action, which some fantasy writers have a tendency to do.

However what separates this work from the masses is; J. V. Jones is a great story-teller. There are a lot of good authors out there, but not all of them are great story-tellers. It's that quality that's needed to get to the top of the heap for genre fiction. Like a master chef, Ms. Jones, knows just what ingredients go together and just the right amount of spice to use.

I think it's an injustice to the fantasy genre, that Sword of Shadows doesn't get the notoriety of the other well-known epics like those by George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordon, and Steven Erikson.
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on December 22, 2016
I've really enjoyed some of J.V. Jones works but this one was just too wordy. I enjoyed the story line but has to struggle through it. It was like listening to the guy who takes a hour to get to each point. I finished up the book but won't go on to the next one.
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on May 17, 2011
This was my first foray into the works of J.V. Jones, and I am totally impressed. A CAVERN OF BLACK ICE is epic fantasy at its finest, set in a grim, dark, and cold world unlike anything I've come across before. Jones pulls no punches here, providing gruesome details of the hellish experiences she puts her characters through. She describes in almost-shocking detail torture, rape, mutilations, and horror. Even I, a 30-year-old man, found myself cringing at the brutalities faced by Raif, Ash, and the Bound One. And while that means I would hesitate to recommend this book to a young person or my mother, its the intensity of emotion that helps this novel earn its place in the pantheon of great epic fantasies.

The setting for the Sword of Shadows series is extremely well developed. A hard and frozen land, where people struggle to survive in fragmented and warring communities. A grim land where the only rule is 'Might makes Right', and where the inhospitable conditions allow for no mistake. This setting is fleshed out by a well-developed history, legend, and mythos. The Stone Gods, the Sull, and the past of Spire Vanis create the feel of a rich cultural heritage and beg for further development in future books. There are many mysteries left untapped at the end of this first book. The 'Old Blood' system of magic Jones has developed for this series is chillingly mysterious, dangerous, and somehow unclean. She describes just enough to keep the reader (and characters) nervous and intrigued, hinting at big and ugly sorceries around the corner that should keep the series interesting.

Compared to other epic fantasy series, this one stands up well. In tone and content, it reminded me of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, by Tad Williams and a little bit of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, only darker and more brutal than those. In character development, it lags behind some of the other great epics, especially A Song of Ice and Fire and The Wheel of Time. While the characters are excellent here, Jones just spent too much time developing her setting and too little developing the individuals to compete with the masters in character development. The detailed and realistic manner in which settings, actions, and emotions are described here remind me a lot of Robin Hobb's work. Only Jones lets loose more with gory and gruesome images that Hobb may hold in check. If you're not okay with reading about assassins tearing babies from frightened women's hands, men stabbing and scalping eight-year-old girls, and grown men watching as their frost-bitten flesh peels away, parts of this book may be too much for you. But if you can stomach it, the emotion of these scenes make this one of the best epic fantasies out there. Highly recommended.
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on May 29, 2008
A Cavern of Black Ice by J.V. Jones is the first book in the Sword of Shadows series. This is the first novel I have ever read by Ms. Jones, so I was a little surprised to hear that she has had a few other novels published. There are currently two other novels published in this series; A Fortress of Grey Ice: Book Two of Sword of Shadows and A Sword from Red Ice (Sword of Shadows, Book 3). I am unsure if that marks the end to the series or if there are more planned after that.

The plot of this book is multi-layers. On the surface it is about a young girl who is coming to realize she is more than she thinks she is. Later in the novel her story merges with that of another plot line; that being of a young barbarian who is forced to leave his tribes in the hands of a madman. There are also a couple other main plot lines. I hesitate to call them sub plots due to the importance of them, but in reality they are sub plots. One is of a rival barbarian clan whose leader has made a pact with someone that could very well change the way the tribe is, and the other sub plot is that of a man who has his own ideas of what should happen in the larger world and the things he does to make that happen. While this may sound like an interesting novel with a deep plot (and it should it has 769 pages) it actually falls rather flat. The plot lines feel recycled and almost give the impression of been there done that. The vast majority of the plot is one cliché after another. I can stomach one cliché if it's written well, but when they stack up like this book it because boring.

The characters, while interesting at times, are just as equally clichéd as the plot. We have Ash who is the young girl who has no idea of her parentage and is coming into a mysterious power. Then there is Raif who is basically exiled from his tribe and runs into Ash. There are the requisite mysterious characters, the requisite love interest. Of all the characters in this expansive tome, only two of the characters really interested me at all Ash and Raif. However, even with that the interest was really only there because I didn't connect with any of the other characters at all. Throughout the novel I just kept thinking I had read this book before in different forms and even so far as to correctly predict things that were going to happen at the end. I was just looking for something, anything, new about this archetype character and it simply wasn't there.

Some criticisms about this novel:

1 - Too much description. Don't get me wrong, Ms. Jones is very good at describing things. But, I don't think EVERYTHING needed to described. Cutting out some of that needless description would have likely cut down the page count by at least thirty pages.

2 - The first three hundred pages of this book almost nothing happens. It's almost pure setup... for three hundred pages. I literally stopped reading this book and red two more before I picked it up again because it frustrated me that much. While I don't mind a good set-up to a story I certainly expect it quicker than three hundred pages into the book.

3 - The characters. As I mentioned above I had a great deal of difficulty connecting with any of them. While using archetypes is fine, they need to be changed a little bit so that they feel new (or at least different) to the reader. That was simply not the case here.

Some positive about this novel:

1 - The world building is fantastic. It's obvious that a lot of thought and planning went into not only the geography but the races, magic, and history as well. I enjoy reading worlds that are fleshed out this much. The only drawback here is that at times it seemed like the world was the main character and took a little away from the plot.

2 - Some of the descriptions of things really help draw the reader deeper into the story. However, there in lies a problem as well. It was over used and became mind-numbing. A balance needs to be found to allow a better flow.

3 - The character development of a few key characters (Ash and Raif) was well written and mostly interesting, if not a little predictable.

Overall, this novel frustrated me. The lack of any real development happening in the first three hundred is a major disappointment. The predictable plot I could have gotten over, but the characters simply could not carry the average plot. While I think Ms. Jones is a solid author, it almost seems as though she likes to hear herself talk a little too much. I can only recommend this book to the most seasoned, hardcore, fantasy fans who know what they are getting into before hand. I just did not care for this book much at all.
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on July 13, 2003
Like a good stout, I guess. The book is undeniably dark in tone. Characters smile less than once per chapter, and even most of those smiles are of the nasty kind. Some of the characters endure amazing torment, both physically and otherwise, and the reader is pulled into it with some unusually graphic descriptions. As for weight, the world described in the book is quite large and varied, but everything seems to be there for a reason; the author has set out to tell an inherently complicated story. The tantalizing bits of information about things that are tangential to the story but will undoubtedly become important later (e.g. the Sull, the Phage) are doled out with great skill, leaving the reader's curiosity neither fully satisfied nor deadened by being hidden among too many other names and events thrown in as mere window dressing (a too-common fault among fantasy authors).
The plot is very dense, but does not - as with Robert Jordan, for example, or increasingly with George R.R. Martin - simply grow without bound. There are fewer storylines at the end than at the beginning, with some clearly primary and others kept to a reasonable minimum. Things *connect*. Something that's mentioned, or which happens, at one point in the book probably will become important later. The author clearly has a plan in mind, and isn't just making stuff up as she goes along. The pacing is extremely even, perhaps slower than some would like, but better that than to have it move in fits and starts while passages in between drag.
This book is definitely not for the faint of heart or short of attention span, but it is an excellent book. Unlike certain other books that have been highly reviewed here without possessing a shred of real merit (*cough* Stanek *cough*) this one deserves the accolades it has received.
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on January 28, 2013
This book's author is a master of her craft with words. She can sculpt a landscape so real you shiver with the characters, and you will do a lot of shivering. Ms. Jones also dispenses with the coddling that most other authors are guilty of giving their protagonists and proceeds with crushing their very souls. Murphy's law reigns supreme, everything bad that can possibly happen does. Usually in reads such as this an author will put a scattering of hope throughout the prose to lift up a readers spirit, but hope is for wimps. The scene where women and children are mowed down relentlessly was a nice touch.
To sum up, there is nothing wrong with the storytelling, but the story left me feeling drained and crushed my faith in humanity. Only read if you want your world to be cloudy, grey and bitterly cold.
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on January 27, 2012
Plenty of long reviews have been written, so no more are really needed... But, I find myself so engrossed in this series, so happy to be reading such an amazing series of books, that I want to throw my 2 cents in. Quite simply, I would rank this series in the top 5 of my all-time favorites. It did take me some time to get into the first book as there are many moving parts (i.e. quite a few different individuals get introduced, so much that I at some point groaned about it), but if you can get part that hump, the list doesnt really grow and the story line starts focusing on a more limited number. Sometimes the telling gets a bit verbose (the depth of the people/tribes/realms lore is very impressive, but sometimes just a bit too much) so I skip a page here and there - but it doesnt bother me as I can just choose how much I want. This is one of those rare books where I find myself reading slower, savoring each sentence in a way that so few books make me do. Kudos to the author!

PS I'm half-way through book three.
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