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What A Difference A New Book Can Make!
on January 1, 2001
After reading "The Barbed Coil," a truly unmemorable and rather stale tale, I was reluctant to pick up this work, regardless of an advanced reader's copy given to me or the sfsite's recommendation of the book as one of the best works of 1999. Since January of that year the book has been sitting on my shelves gathering dust and in general ignored as I turned to more obvious and predictable sources of reading pleasure. In hindsight, the only benefit I have accrued by this error in judgment is that I will have less time to wait for the next novel, which I dearly hope will soon be released.
As another reviewer has implied, it is difficult to believe this book was ever written by the same author as "The Barbed Coil." Whereas that book was common and at times self-consciously cute (and continues annoyingly here to err in this direction with an occasional use of Scottish brogue and references to "wee lassies"), this work is well above the ordinary or clichéd work that dominates most fantasy fiction, offering a tale that is complex and written with a skill only barely glimpsed in the earlier book. Interweaving plots with the skill of the best epic fantasists, if Ms. Jones is able to maintain the level of writing found here, this work will surely come to equal the recent work of authors such as Katherine Kerr, Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin or Robert Jordan. And the author has created a cold and ice-bound world that is largely original---certainly so in terms of the mythic cosmology surrounding it and the deep, oftentimes grim mysticism with which it is imbued. The mythos surrounding this tale is as broad, complex and detailed as any to be found in fantasy fiction, equaled only contemporaneously by Steven Erikson or Robert Jordan. And while her cast follows standard types familiar to any devotee of the genre, the author has made each striking and individual in character, and for the most part has avoided singular or one-dimensional characterizations. Her players' motives are complex, and, like George R.R. Martin or Robin Hobb, the author has wisely given her cast depth and contradictions in character.
This book presents almost an almost perfect balance between slowly unfolding narrative and action, and while a great degree of mystery and unresolved questions continue to nag the reader at the book's conclusion, and no point does once feel obviously manipulated or robbed of satisfaction in the novel's denouement or progress. There is a clear sense of plot progression and resolution to this "chapter" of the series' development, and hopefully Ms. Jones will be able to avoid the extraneous and often episodic plot threads that have in part frustrated the most recent offerings by Jordan and Martin, and even more significantly Goodkind. This is a marvelous and imaginative beginning to a much larger work, already vast in potential scope. My only hope is that it does not come to feed upon itself.
This work stands as further proof for me that one should not discount future work by an obviously talented writer based upon the false starts or less than fully realized efforts of earlier work. There are any number of new and imaginative and potentially exciting authors writing today---Elizabeth Haydon, John Marco, and Juliet Marillier, to name just a few---that have revealed gifts of storytelling far stronger than anything found or ever suspected in Ms. Jone's "The Barbed Coil." "A Cavern of Black Ice" stands as certain admonishment that rewards are to be gained by continuing to follow the work of newer and more recent authors, such as David Farland or Martha Wells, allowing them time to hone and perfect their skills. After all, first-time epics such as Stephen Donaldson's "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant" are rare indeed.
"A Cavern of Black Ice" could easily herald a work in progress that may well become, when completed, a masterpiece of epic fantasy fiction. It certainly shall if successive books prove the equal of this one. I look forward to the second installment with great anticipation, and selfishly wish the author every possible success. And I heartily concur with the sfsite that this was one of the best books of 1999, or, for that matter, any recent year. Sorry it took me so long to heed their advice.