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A Sword from Red Ice: Book Three of Sword of Shadows    by J. V. Jones order for
Sword from Red Ice
by J. V. Jones
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A Sword from Red Ice is the third (out of a planned five) in the Sword of Shadows epic by J. V. Jones, who also wrote the Book of Words trilogy. In the first in the series, A Cavern of Black Ice, we got to know two young people - orphaned Ash March, adopted daughter of the Surlord in Spire Vanis, and Raif of Clan Blackhail, predominant amongst warring tribes in the icy North. When Ash learned that as a Reach, she could become a gateway to unleash ultimate evil upon her world, she fled to escape that fate. Unable to prevent an atrocity after his father's murder, Raif - who is a master at heart-killing - fled South, branded as a traitor to his people. Of course their paths crossed and they set out on a common quest.

Though I somehow missed the second in the series, A Fortress of Grey Ice, I was able to pick up (with some difficulty despite a handy Story So Far summary) and follow the continuing storyline in A Sword from Red Ice. In the interim, clan wars have spun out of control. Mace, who killed Raif's father and assumed control of Blackhail, raped the chief's widow Raina, forcing her to marry him. He also opened the doors of Blackhail to the ill-reputed Clan Scarpe. Ash was mentored by two Sull Far Riders, who believed Raif to be the Watcher of the Dead, prophesied to destroy their race, and left him behind. They drained Ash's human blood to make way for Sull blood - later they were attacked and Ash separated from them. Raif joined the Maimed Men. After killing an old Blackhail friend on an outlaw raid, Raif headed alone into the desolate, nightmarish Great Want to seal a dangerous breach in the Blindwall, and succeeded.

As needed in any fantasy that goes beyond a trilogy, there are a large number of threads to follow in Jones' convoluted storyline. A Sword from Red Ice opens on the explosion of the sacred guidestone in Blackhail. As she picks up the pieces and deals with the incursion of the Scarpemen and their silver-tongued clan guide, Raina plots to assume the chieftanship herself. Raif wends his way out of the perilous Want with the aid of lamb brothers, rejoins the Maimed Men for a time, and takes on a new and (literally) heartstopping quest to find Red Ice. Raif's small sister Effie was kidnapped by the Cursed Clan - along with young Chedd, she's manacled and taken by river to the Graylands, but for what purpose? Raif's ranger uncle Angus Lok despairs over the killings of his wife and daughters, seeks to learn more, and finds a small seed of hope.

Ash travels the birch way to Fort Defeat, with the help of Sull Far Rider Lan Fallstar, with whom she develops an odd relationship - but can she trust him? Dog Lord Vaylo Bludd flees the Dhoonehouse with his surviving two grandchildren and his lady Nan, finds refuge in a small Dhoone hillfort, and learns something of the threat that faces all of them. Spire Vanis Protector General Marafice Eye leads an army against Ganmiddich, a clanhold allied with Blackhail that Raif's brother Drey has been sent to help defend. Sorceror Baralis, long tortured and broken by the Surlord, is rescued by gentle giant Crope and hidden amongst thieves and whores. And Doone clansman Bram Cormac, unwanted by his brother, makes a new life at Castlemilk, until a ranger offers him knowledge and yet another role.

Jones' writing reminds me of the later episodes in George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, with equally dark undercurrents - and she's just as hard on her protagonists. But if you're comfortable with that - and can deal with the complexity of the rich fantasy world that she's created, the Sword of Shadows is an epic well worth the read, whose plot thickened on many fronts in A Sword from Red Ice.

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