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A Cavern of Black Ice    by J. V. Jones order for
Cavern of Black Ice
by J. V. Jones
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2000 (1999)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

ACavern of Black Ice is the first of a new trilogy, Sword of Shadows. In Cavern, Jones alternates between two main storylines about youthful characters. Asarhia (Ash) is a delicate young woman, an orphan living in Spire Vanis under the control of an ill-intentioned guardian. Of course she has hidden powers and slowly learns that she could become a gateway to unleash ultimate evil upon her world. Ash is frail indeed but turns out to be resolute in her effort to rid herself of this burden.

Raif is a member of Clan Blackhail, predominant amongst warring tribes that scratch a hard living in the icy North. Disaster hits the Clan and a new leader comes to power. Mace Blackhail is a silver-tongued demagogue who convinces almost all the tribe of his sincerity. Raif distrusts him and is in turn misunderstood by his fellows. Mace leads the clan warriors to commit an atrocity, which Raif is unable to prevent or condone, and he flees to the South, branded as a traitor.

Of course Raif and Ash meet and join in a common quest. It's a 'boy meets girl' story, a coming of age tale, and a typical fantasy all in one. Both hero and heroine have hidden talents and destinies which slowly surface. And there are a myriad of interesting minor characters including Raif's talented little sister Effie; the vile Marafice Eye who pursues Ash inexorably; and the frostbitten Listener who sends raven messengers from the frozen Northern wastes.

Jones' writing has dark under-currents. The story starts with a description of torture and continues with explicit descriptions of violence and its aftermaths. This seems to be the current trend in fantasy novels (as in movies) but I prefer the older style which skirts the edges of such acts, rather than laying out all the gory details. I also found her switches between storylines to be distracting. The reader is asked to follow not only the main two stories but also many minor plotlines that lay the groundwork for the rest of the trilogy.

Despite these reservations I found A Cavern of Black Ice to be an absorbing read, with a variety of horrific villains, and well developed main characters who engaged my sympathy and interest. And the author left enough intriguing loose ends in Cavern to make me eager to continue with the next story in this new fantasy epic.

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