Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Sword From Red Ice A Sword From Red Ice
by J. V. Jones

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Brett Peacock

I was glad that there was a précis of the events of Books One – A Cavern of Black Ice and Two –A Fortress of Grey Ice - at the start of Book 3 as It had been over 18 months since I had read the second and a good two years before that when I read Book One. Frankly I needed the catch up, because, unlike her first Trilogy - The Book of Words ( The Bakers Boy, A Man Betrayed, and Master and Fool)- I had retained rather less of the story than I would have thought.

This new trilogy is set in the same world as her first and follows on chronologically from the end of Master and Fool, but is set in a new part of the great Continent, far to the north of the nations of the Book of Words, indeed the southern-most city on this map was the northern- most city from the first map. Events are moving towards the climax of the trilogy and she should now be bringing the various threads together. She should be… But frankly, for most of the book, it’s hard to tell if that is what is occurring. In fact I sometimes felt the opposite was happening. After some thought, and a brief scan of the first Trilogy, the problem became clear to me.

The Book of Words was largely focussed around its main villain, Baralis the Sorceror. He was the prime mover, the motivation and the menace to most of the protagonists. He kept events rolling along,, sometimes teetering on the brink of disaster and sometimes seemingly ustoppable and invincible. The Sword of Shadows has NO EQUIVALENT character. There are a couple of really good nasties to contend with BUT neither seems capable of generating the Chaos that has engulfed the lands and peoples in the North. Even dragging Baralis back (miraculously alive but reduced, seemingly to a bit part, a captive of the Overseer does not solve the problem. The Whole trilogy lacks focus and it becomes alarmingly clear in book three)

Without a central focus the weakness of the book exposes a problem with the writing. It Gets Dull. To compensate Ms Jones Pads out the book with "local colour" and "character background" and, worst of all, "internal dialogue". Not just the odd paragraph either. I’m talking about pages of it, and if I’m not mistaken, at least one whole damn chapter! And I’m not even going to comment of how difficult it is to sort out the character inter-relationships, you would need a network forensic program for that.

That’s the bad news out of the way, most of it, anyway. The good news is that J. V. Jones can damn well write- when she sets her mind to it and leaves the urge to pad it behind her. The world is still one of the better realised ones in Fantasy and the story is NEVER predictable- unlike vol 2 which was a bit more … well, staid, like most middle chapters of a trilogy. The major characters are well thought out and again, do not threaten to become clichéd or ordinary, each is rounded, with strengths and weaknesses. A minor disappointment (to ME, others can and will disagree) is that she introduces what amounts to Elves in the trilogy. Granted they’re Savage Homicidal Xenophobic Terrorist Elves. And they are called something else…but they’re ELVES.

So far this has sounded like a fairly negative review. That is not really the case; what I am trying to convey is the extent to which these problems with the story differ from the tight and focussed narrative of the first trilogy, and how that… and I’m choosing the word carefully… injures… the second trilogy as a whole in COMPARISON.

Overall the book is exciting and compelling reading- padding aside- and moves along at a good clip. Its well written and keeps the reader (mostly) involved – but compared to The Book of Words it’s no page turner I read all three volumes of that within 10 days, first time up. It took 10 days just to read Vol 3 of this trilogy and similar periods for the first two volumes also. Overall, I was overjoyed when Baralis reappeared at the end of Volume 1, it seemed the focus would return in vol 2. Now were are in Volume 3 and I’m still awaiting it…

My acid test for a fantasy novel or trilogy comes down to the answers I have to three basic questions when I finish reading it.

Question One: Do I like the story and setting?

Question Two: Do I relate with the main character or characters?

Question Three: Did I enjoy reading It?

In this case I had to answer Yes to the first two questions and sometimes to the third. That is to say, I liked the story and setting, I related to (most of) the characters well, and sometimes I enjoyed the read. By those criteria A Sword from Red Ice earns a somewhat qualified vote of approval, But overall the whole Sword of Shadows trilogy is notably inferior to J. V. Jones Book of Words trilogy. I think perhaps this seems to show signs that she is running out of story inspiration to use this world again. Perhaps such a change of milieu would be the ticket….

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