A Sword from Red Ice is the third entry in J.V. Jones’ epic, dark, and snowy fantasy series, Sword of Shadows. I am completely invested in Jones’ grim world and fully engaged with the characters, their adventures, and the turmoil that they face. This novel continues presenting the same elements that have gripped me so far, however, some of the plot progression this time seemed drawn out and mundane.
Following the climax of A Fortress of Grey Ice, a frustrated, injured, and starving Raif finds himself wandering through the Want, an area that, being broken by sorcery, is bewitching and does not follow nature’s laws. Elsewhere, Clan Blackhail’s chief’s wife Raina is disenchanted with her clan’s actions, believing they are going against the morals and ethics that made Blackhail so formidable and respected a clan, culminating in the Gods deserting them. As these events are unfolding, the formidable yet aging Dog Lord and his party of five are still trying to avoid detection from rivals after escaping through the Tomb of Dhoone Princes. These viewpoints, alongside Bram, Robbie Dun Dhoone’s younger brother, are the most enjoyable chapters to follow, being the most action-packed and thought-provoking.
“I need you to tell your brother two things. First, you must tell him old grievances should be forgotten. Whilst we fight amongst ourselves the city men circle like wolves. When they spy weakness they will strike.” He paused, waiting. Bram made the smallest possible movement that could be taken for a nod. “And there’s another thing. Tell him days darker than night lie ahead.”
There are approximately twelve point-of-view perspectives and all of them are intriguing and focused so that no viewpoints blur into one another or are cumbersome. Main players Effie Sevrance and Ash Marsh continue to be fascinating characters yet I cannot help but assess that their arcs, this time, were more about them travelling from point A to point B. Essentially, just traversing to where they have to be for their particular culminations at A Sword from Red Ice’s conclusion. Less page time is given to loyal giant Crope and the brutal, beast of a man, Marifice Eye. Both are interesting to follow, showcasing and giving detailed insights into further aspects of Jones’ world, including those magical and political.
A Sword from Red Ice contains dozens of cinematic and incredible set pieces. A portion of these reflect that the stakes are increasing. This is because the vale between reality and the blind has been pierced, with the shadowy unmade now stalking the land. Other stunning segments include pivotal meetings of main characters from different factions, heartwrenching sequences, oath-setting, hardships and deaths, and stunning scenes with Raif and Traggis Mole. The latter are, to me, some of my favourite moments in dark fantasy literature.
Jones’ world is incredible and immersive. Furthermore, it is a testament to her skill as a writer that main characters such as Angus Lok and Drey Sevrance are rarely seen throughout this book but their presence and influence are felt. Although I am reading what is featured here, I am considering implications elsewhere and what is taking place behind the words on the page. Jones allows us to use our imagination to fill in the blanks, based upon what clues are given. For example, Bram is now fostering with Clan Castlemilk (and doing very well), but, because of this, we are no longer given a front-row view of the Thorn King, Robbie Dun Dhoone. As this is the case, our image of Robbie becomes altered based on how other characters perceive him as his legacy builds.
This novel is a long read at 600+ pages yet, even so, it took me a month to read which I believe reflects the pacing and my overall enjoyment. Some of the point-of-view perspectives felt like they were only given 2 to 3 chapters over the entire course of the book therefore feeling like there was little progression. On the contrary, I adored Raif’s and the Dog Lord’s chapters which were full of drama and updates, and I was always content when returning to see how things were progressing there.
That sense of peace would not last for long. Mor Drakka, Watcher of the Dead, Oathbreaker, Twelve Kill: a man possessing such names could not expect to live a peaceful life.
A Sword from Red Ice is a solid dark fantasy read with moments of brilliance and fantastic dialogue but it can sometimes be hard work during more plodding sections. I feel that the highest I can award this entry is a 7/10. Next, I shall move on to Watcher of the Dead, the final novel released by Jones in Sword of Shadows, which is a proposed series of 6 books.