A Cavern of Black Ice by J.V. Jones
A Cavern of Black Ice is the first novel in an Epic Fantasy series by J.V. Jones, author of the Book of Words Trilogy, which I enjoyed many years ago as a teenager. The events of the novel center around two main characters, Ash March and Raif Severance.
As a baby, Ash was abandoned by her mother and adopted by Penthero Iss, the Surlord of a city called Spire Vanis. Ash is raised in the castle, but kept secluded away from courtly life. Haunted by dark dreams and voices that seem to come from another realm, Ash begins to realize that she is different. Meanwhile her adoptive sketch-ball of a father, (would you trust a guy named Penthero Iss?) watches her as she grows into womanhood. Believe it or not, Iss' intentions when he adopted Ash were not wholly on the up an up, and he is eagerly awaiting her flowering so that he can discover what sort of powers she may possess and use them to further his evil schemes.
Raif on the other hand knows he is different, he has the ability to look into the hearts of living things... a skill he uses to heart-kill animals when he hunts. Raif does a lot of hunting because he is a young man in Clan Blackhail, a hunter-gatherer people from the icy north. However, his strange ability only sets him up to be an outcast from his people. When the Balckhail Clan chief, Raif's father, and some other Blackhail men are killed in a mysterious ambush, Raif finds himself at odds with the new chief and soon finds himself outcast, while all the clans of the north plunge into all out warfare.
A Cavern of Black Ice has many of the elements that make for a typical epic fantasy: Teens with unrealized powers, Evil Lords, a frigid northern climate, a difficult quest, etc. However, Jones does nothing interesting or new with these elements and A Cavern of Black Ice came off as a generic piece of fantasy fiction. I was constantly struck with the "been there, seen that" feeling as I worked my way through the novel. The fact that Jones adhered so firmly to those tried and true elements was frustrating at times, and for me, sucked much of the tension right out of the book, making this epic journey feel more like a plod to a very predictable end.
Very few of the characters stood out. I felt like maybe Jones tried too hard to make the main characters stand out, and it actually seemed like a couple of the lesser characters were better written simply because Jones wasn't trying as hard. Ash and Raif were particularly lame to me. They both were devoid of any kind of personality, and felt like cardboard cut-outs.
Ringing in at 768 pages, A Cavern of Black Ice is a thick bastard. Bloated even. A good 50-75 pages could have been cut if Jones hadn't tried to include long paragraphs of description that were too wordy and uninteresting, and only served to distract from the action.
For obvious reasons, I will not be returning to this series. A Cavern of Black Ice was just waaay too generic and dull to make me want to carry on with the series. Oh well, on to better things.