Monday, 7 December 2009

J.V. Jones - A Cavern of Black Ice (Sword of Shadows, Book One)

Fantasy is a tricky thing these days. A book only seems to be classed as fantasy if there are Elves, Dwarves and Orcs in it, typically with the Elves and Dwarves killing the Orcs and then the Humans come along, kill the bad guys and everyone is happy, except the Elves who inevitably have to leave to make way for the Humans and then the evil in the land is sealed away for an indefinite amount of time, until the Orcs come back again to find The One Ring to bring back the Dark Lord - you see where I’m going? Fantasy struggles to get away from The Lord of the Rings and the connotations associated with it. It’s almost as if Mr Tolkien wrote a fantasy rule book to go with his masterpiece that states, ‘all fantasy must contain at least one of Elves, Dwarves, Rings, Dark Lords - and Humans must always win the day.’

I’m merely speaking from personal experience here, but I’ve been struggling to find any kind of original fantasy material that doesn’t contain Dark Lords and Dwarves and Elves (oh my!) That was until I decided to actively tried to find new fantasy. I went to the sacred land of and scoured their book lists in search of the hidden fantasy scrolls… and that’s where I came across J.V. Jones’ Sword of Shadows series, of which, A Cavern of Black Ice is ‘Book One.’

The first thing I noticed about A Cavern of Black Ice was the sheer amount of text. Each page is a wall of writing and there are very few long sections of dialogue to break it up. In fact, J.V. Jones is tremendously sparing when it comes to character discussions. All her characters seem to play the strong silent type when having a conversation. However, when something needs to be explained, a character who has said no more than ‘hello’ previously, will spill two pages worth of uninterrupted dialogue directly into the reader’s face.

That said, the majority of the prose is vivid and imaginative. It brings her fictional world to life through well constructed description and emotion. There is a lot of it though, perhaps too much in places. The book extends to 804 pages and part of me feels like the story could have been told closer to 500.

One of my major issues with
ACOBI is the use, or should I say abuse, of viewpoint. It changes from character to character constantly throughout the novel. By the end I’d lost count of how many perspectives I’d seen the world through and where it can be a good device for giving the reader a wider view of the world, I felt it hindered the plot drastically. There are sections where the viewpoint is with Raif, the main protagonist, and as soon as I was getting really into his journey and adventures, I reached the end of a chapter and the viewpoint switched to someone else as far away from the action as possible. It ruined the pace and suspense to the point where I was forced to take a break and let my mind adjust.

That said, it was never enough for me to lose interest completely and I ploughed through to the end. The end of the first book anyway. I’ll get around to reading the second one eventually but I feel like I need a break from snow, ice and wolves. Maybe I’ll go find some Orcs….

Recommendations, recommendations… I would recommend
A Cavern of Black Ice to any fan of fantasy fiction and also fans of really good prose. But not my mum. She is still attempting to get through Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.

A Cavern of Black Ice by J.V. Jones was published by Orbit in 1999. RRP £8.99 (Paperback) - £6.96 from Just to clarify, I don’t work for Amazon.


  1. Hi Adam,

    You asked for Workshoppy comments, so here I go!

    I'll start with the (overwhelming) positives: I like the tone, and the opening is humourous. The LOTR references rocked my world. You give a balanced argument and seem to know the genre well.

    Now my Grammar gripes: At least one spelling mistake: Shear is the spelling of, you know, shearing sheep. Sheer is the spelling you want to use! EG: Tom French's face is sheer brilliance.

    Also, the Amazon reference.. I assume you meant sacred land, not scared land! Though maybe I mis-read it, I have been looking over Shakespeare for the last 2 hours..

    My one other comment is, perhaps I wouldn't describe her prose as '... Really good.' I guess it might be being told not to say that in workshop stuff! Perhaps just another phrasing..

    My gripes are only small ones! You know me, I'm a whore for grammar and spelling.

    Overall, really enjoyed it lots.

    Tom F. You know the one. The handsome one.

  2. Another spelling error. You put dwarfs at one point near the start. ;)

    The review is awesome, loving the intro especially.
    And the book... sounds like a worse version of 'The Blade Itself' to me...