A Fortress of Grey Ice is the second entry in J.V. Jones’ Sword of Shadows series. The novel is another impressive character-driven epic fantasy, continuing the action that was introduced with A Cavern of Black Ice. The scope has been expanded this time, giving readers more insights into both the happenings of the clan wars and Panthero Iss and his forces at Spire Vanis using the turmoil to their advantage. We are presented with further understandings surrounding the world’s magics, political factions and complications. The main threat is bubbling beyond the blindwall and the majority of the dramatis personae are oblivious to this nightmare presence. The Endlords and their shadowy taken are currently behind the magical veil but this protection is constantly weakening.
My favourite character and point of view perspective to follow was Raif’s, who is akin to this series’ Jon Snow. His chapters include hardships, unequivocally difficult decisions, truly incredible setpieces, and great support characters, such as Stillborn. The concept of the Maimed Men is one of the most intriguing groups I can remember being introduced to in a dark fantasy narrative. Being ostracised from his clan, there are not many options for Raif, leading him down some harrowing roads, littered with (what have to be) the series’ standout moments.
“Yes, Clansman. I know who you are. I have seen the raven riding on your back. I have heard the sound of footsteps at your heels. Death follows you. She named you. Watcher of the Dead. Yes, you are cursed.”
Unfortunately, I was not as enthusiastic about Ash’s point of view chapters this time although I understand their importance and necessity, diverting her away from the other main players, plot-wise and with regards to her fate in this story. Finding out further details about the Sull, though, was a positive from these sections.
“We are the only ones left who fight the darkness. Whilst clansmen and city men feud amongst themselves over land once claimed by the Sull, we will ride out and battle with the Endlords and their taken. Make no mistake, Ash March, I offer you little in return for your soul.”
Another excellent progression in A Fortress of Grey Ice was the internal conflict, and civil war storyline, following a self-styled King of Dhoone (Robbie the Thorn King), through the observant eyes of his 15-year-old younger brother Bram. These chapters featuring Robbie, Bram, and the King’s forces are action-packed, showing insights into the loyalty and unification that the would-be monarch inspires. Another aspect of these segments was Scotland-inspired imagery and language which I thought was a great touch, possibly more so as I read some of this novel whilst on a trip to Glasgow.
The Dog Lord’s page time is just as enjoyable to follow as the last book, Angus Lok is still enigmatic and influential although does not frequent the drama as much as in A Cavern of Black Ice, and new points of view, delivered by Raina Blackhail and Crope, are interesting too. Raina is the clan chief of Blackhail’s wife and Crope is a misunderstood giant of a man with a mysterious past and an allegiance that binds him.
I would have wished to have spent longer periods witnessing events through Raina’s eyes but like Effie Sevrance (Raif’s 9-year-old sister), their moments are impactful but seem less frequent. Right now, danger and uncertainty stalk Effie Sevrance’s heels, with her being witness to and part of one traumatic scene in particular. This occasion was thrilling, emotionally intense, and draining. Even though I am aware this is a grimdark read, I could not help but hope that some hero would arrive at the last moment, bellow “stop this nonsense now!” and the darkness and dread would dissipate. Alas, this is not to be the case in Jones’ frozen and cruel world. Any character who could be referred to as a typical hero has probably already been murdered or is off fighting on the fringes, placed there so that they are unable to influence these plot points, however much they would want to.
A final note before I conclude: I wish to bring attention to the fact that Traggis Mole is an incredible character. To me, one of the finest grimdark side characters I have come across. Utterly dangerous and formidable, respected and feared, and although his agendas seem nefarious, he may have less dastardly motives than it first seems. Every interaction that featured him, I felt as if something was about to explode. I was upset that I could not find any fan art of him, this, unfortunately, represents that this series does not seem to have the size and dedication of readership that the quality befits.
“As the Robber Chief turned away, his gaze met Raif’s. Traggis Mole’s eyes were black and haunted, and there was such a force behind them Raif fought the desire to step back. Harm us and die, the Robber Chief warned him, and then swept his gaze away.”
A Fortress of Grey Ice is another top-tier fantasy read, with an intricately crafted plot that is deep and a joy to get lost in and that statement takes into consideration my prior awareness that this journey is painful, and will continue to be so. My only real complaint is that there are a few plodding and duller moments but as an overall package, the standard is high. 8.5/10.