REVIEW: Watcher of the Dead by J.V. Jones

Last Updated on July 2, 2024

In Watcher of the Dead, we join clansman Raif Sevrance as he contemplates what to do next now that he possesses the legendary sword Loss. With Raif’s talents at being able to heart kill and the weapon’s God-influenced nature, he can stand as a challenge against the upper-tier monstrosities of the unmade and the Endlords. Raif has endured brutal hardships, has broken oaths, and has seen many people close to him perish. The fact that he has the destined sword does not mean that he goes without burdens, battles, and torture in Watcher of the Dead. If anything, his luck seems to have gotten worse, and although Raif is my favourite character, it is not an easy read to follow his tortuous journey.

“I’ve seen what close combat with live steel can do to an army. It’s seldom pretty. The guts. The shit. The blood. Never seen anything like the Red Ice, though. Thirty thousand bodies reduced to parts. Parts. And maybe, just maybe, this sword and the man who wielded it turned certain annihilation into a draw.”

Cover of Watcher of the Dead by J.V. JonesWatcher of the Dead commences fantastically with every single point of view perspective being impactful from the start, utterly gripping, and adding to this already deep fantasy world. Standout viewpoints, again, include the Blackhail chief’s wife Raina as she continues with her dedication to return her clan to its former glory, even if that means taking it over from within. As with A Sword from Red Ice, Bram Cormac’s adventures are great to witness following the choice he made at the end of the previous book, which linked him up with the Phage ranger, Hew Mallin. The Reach Ash Marsh’s storyline felt as if it was filler in the last book, with her travelling from point A to B, yet I have no such complaints here. It was thoroughly enjoyable to share more page time with Ash concerning her integration with the Sull, especially after feeling like she had been relegated to a side character since A Fortress of Grey Ice.

“In many ways his life had been arranged like the checkerboard pattern of the courtyard: black and white, black and white. Stealth, weapons-training, secrets and surveillance were part of the black, part of the life that he’d once believed was his calling. His missions and travels were all in the black. The white . . . The white was gone. Over. Even a child knew that if you burned something to a cinder the only thing left was black.”

There is a new point of view perspective that is one of the main threads in Watcher of the Dead, following a character initially acknowledged as Watcher. It transpires that they are a main character who readers are familiar with, presenting the details as they pursue a task that they believe will damn them. This viewpoint is introduced early, is one of the most intense and shows new angles of this fantasy world, its history and mysteries.

With sublime characters such as those mentioned previously, Watcher of the Dead is an absolute gem of a dark fantasy read. At this stage of the Sword of Shadows series, I am invested in a manner that may even surpass how engaged I was with some of my favourite series such as The Realm of the Elderlings and Malazan. The world is brimming to the edge with intrigue, civil wars, dread regarding the threat of the unmade, and puzzles and possibilities. Throughout, my mind is trying to answer questions that are beyond what is revealed on the page. For example, where is Angus Lok’s daughter? What has become of Drey Sevrance who has not been seen for almost two books? It is worth noting too that Watcher of the Dead features a fantasy trope that is brilliantly executed. That of “warging” or bonding with an animal companion. This direction was something I did not envisage yet was expertly handled.

Watcher of the Dead takes all of the great qualities and potential that the Sword of Shadows has showcased thus far and hones it masterfully. The novel is thoroughly fantastic with concluding set-pieces being some of the finest in fantasy that I can remember reading. The only viewpoint that drops the stellar standard slightly is that of Ellie Sevrance however even her perspective offers well-presented information about clans, curses, lore, and what could happen next when the Endlords break through the barrier. This is the last of the released novels that J.V. Jones has penned, yet, looking at her Patreon and other articles, I am hoping the wait is almost over for the next entry in this stunning fantasy series.

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James Tivendale

James Tivendale

Reviewer. Sober. Runner. Peer Mentor. Pool Player. Poker Player. Fitness. Metal. Rap. Mario Kart. Zelda.

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