A Cavern of Black Ice by J.V. Jones
Hardcover | 736 pages
A few weeks ago I was reading through some recommendations of some dark fantasy novels written by female authors. A Cavern of Black Ice was one (of many) that caught my eye, and since I enjoy catching up on backlist titles I thought I'd give it a go. This book was first published in 1999, so it's very backlist, and Jones is also apparently currently working on the fifth book of this series after many years, so that's a plus for starting the series now. I was only maybe one-two hundred pages in--there are over seven hundred--when I realized that this book was more than likely going to end up as a favorite. By the time I finished, I knew that undoubtedly it was becoming one of my new favorite fantasy books.
A Cavern of Black Ice and JV Jones are, in my humble opinion, incredibly underrated. I don't really understand why I don't see this book recommended more often or why it took so long for me to find it, but I am so glad I finally did. The world-building in this book is fascinating, the characters are incredibly well-drawn and well-developed, and the plot itself is compelling, with both simple and complex elements that kept me hooked.
This book is set in what is probably one of the coldest settings I've ever read. I've read plenty of books set in snow and deep winter, but I have never read a book so cold that people's eyes get frozen together or where they have to wear layers and layers of different oils on their faces so that they can ride through the cold air without destroying their skin. I'm one hundred percent positive that I would die in about two seconds if I lived in this world. I loved this setting, however, and it's part of what made this book so brutal and so wonderful. It's constant and all-encompassing, and something about that just really made this book stand out to me as something remarkable. I also really loved reading about the different clans that exist in this story, as well as the various places that the characters come from. I was particularly intrigued by the Sull, an old group of people that have such a reputation that they are almost revered in a strange way.
Raif Sevrance and Ash March are the main protagonists and also the two main perspectives (both third person) that we follow, though this book does follow many different characters as well. We also meet Raif's brother and sister, Drey and Effie, respectively, and his uncle, Angus Lok. Effie and Angus were two of my favorite characters, and I felt a connection to both Effie and Ash because of some of the elements of their personalities and how they reacted to different circumstances. Angus is one of those men that is always lovingly grumbling about 'my wife'll be mad if I don't do this' and similar sentiments of that nature, but you can easily tell that he's perfectly happy and loves his wife and daughters unconditionally--he's an incredibly endearing person and father-figure that I loved.
Both Raif and Ash were incredibly engaging and I was equally immersed in both of their stories. Raif is a thoughtful young man who does not readily accept whatever is told to him. He is constantly questioning what people say and wondering if there is more to something than what is being said. Although he always does what he thinks is best for himself and his family, Raif tends to put his family and his clan above his own safety which occasionally leads to dangerous situations for himself. I liked how he matured throughout this book and we are able to see him grow from a boy fiercely loyal to his clan to a young man with incredibly responsibilities placed upon his back and a realization that he must move forward and put his past behind him for good.
Ash comes from a very different lifestyle to Raif, but she is also someone who knows when people aren't fully truthful about their intentions and doesn't always hesitate to question that. She is rather quiet, but she is also extremely clever and holds a bit of darkness and unexpected strength within her, which I found myself immensely drawn to. She may be a physically weak and unassuming girl, but there is much more to her than what appears. I also enjoyed watching her grow throughout this story, and I was drawn to her perseverance and ability to make difficult decisions when also faced with incredible responsibilities that she never expected.
Another thing that I loved about this book was that even the 'villain' characters were written in multi-dimensional ways with interesting stories. For instance, Vaylo Bludd, aka the Dog Lord, is, on the surface, a cold-hearted, bloodthirsty man who wants nothing more than power. But when we visit his perspective, we learn that he also has a strong love and passion for his dogs and his grandchildren, the latter of which he loves fiercely. He is power hungry, but he's also an interesting person. You want to dislike him, but you can't help but appreciate how much passion he has for the things in his life that he loves. There's also Marafice Eye, a towering force of brutality who has very few redeeming qualities except for the fact that he is fiercely loyal to the men under his command and is genuinely upset when one is lost. And, of course, there is Penthero Iss, Ash's foster father who is creepy as hell, but also a simply interesting figure. He appears to want to protect Ash, but he also has ulterior motives.
This is a super dark, bleak book. There really isn't much at all in the way of positive things going on, just really small bits of light or humor amidst the ninety-nine percent constant darkness. Despite this--or perhaps because of this--I was unequivocally captivated by this story. It took me much longer to read this book than it usually does and I didn't mind one bit. I savored every page and every event in this book. The pacing is definitely on the slower side, but I felt that ever part was important and added something to the story and I didn't mind the slower pace at all. I think that it helped to really dive into this world and become fully immersed.
I gave A Cavern of Black Ice a well-deserve and obvious five stars. If you are any sort of fantasy fan, then I cannot recommend this book enough--in fact, I implore you to read it for yourself. Maybe you'll just love it also.
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