A Sword from Red Ice (Sword of Shadows) by J V Jones

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A Sword from Red Ice (Sword of Shadows) by J V Jones

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: With the world threatened by the Shadow creatures, Raif seeks the Sword From Red Ice - if he can escape the Want - whilst Ash Marsh seeks to discover her role. Meanwhile the Clans fight and struggle to survive, against each other and against the changes in the world.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 640 Date: October 2007
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841491172

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Raif awakes, screaming Ash's name. Bear, his pony is frightened. But worse is to come... for Raif (Mor Drakka, Watcher of the Dead, Oathbreaker, Twelvekill) whatever his myriad names, they will aid him little now, for Raif is lost in the Want. The Want is that unmapped place north of the Badlands, South of the Crown of Ghosts. A place where not only the landscape cannot be relied upon to stay still - the dunes will shift and change everything - but also the skies above are just as untrustworthy. What the stars will tell you is North one night, may have shifted, like the dunes, the next. Sorcery is at work here. Unknown powers. No wonder most who enter the Want do not return.

Raina Blackhail is doing her best to hold the Blackhail together, though their Chief has been murdered and she first raped and then taken to wife by her step son. Worse is to come for the Guidestone - home of the gods, centrepiece of the Clan's rituals, has exploded, ripping the heart out of the clan-hold and perhaps out of the Clan.

South of the Doonehouse, Vaylo Bludd travels with the remains of his clan-hold - a meagre party of escapers: Vaylo, Hammie, Nan, the two grand-bairns and the dogs. A chief without a clan. For him, probably no worse is to come for it seems he has little left to lose.

Bram Cormac is banished from his brother's presence at Doone - or, depending upon how you look at it, sent to be fostered in the way of the clans, at Castlemilk. For him better and worse is to come. Certainly, much is to be learned... and he is the learning kind.

Ash March - the Reach (whatever that may be, for she doesn't know yet) - is being led through the Birchway by the strange and silent Sull, Lan Fallstar.

Of Drey and Effie Sevrance, nothing is known, by any of these... though some of them wonder.

This is where we enter the tale at the beginning of Book Three of the Sword of Shadows. There's no telling how many books Jones envisages needing to tell her story - but if you want to get involved be prepared for the long haul.

In the 600 pages of this volume we follow all of these characters and more on the next stages of their journeys.

Raif's is to find the eponymous sword - but whether he'll get there depends not only on finding his way out of the Want, but dealing with the claw of the shadow creature embedded in his shoulder and slowly working its way towards his heart.

Raina's is to discover whether she is worthy Chief's Wife - or more - or less. While the Clan deal with the Chief's absence at war and the designs of the incoming Clan Guide, who shows none of the reverence for his own or anyone else's position.

sh... well, her journey, may turn out to be the most important of all.

Of the others, who knows what part, small or large they are yet to play.

But the journey is the theme of the book. For little else happens. Oh, much is revealed, and more is discovered. There are battles and victories; there are foul deeds by dark and daylight. Treachery stalks and honour... well, the loss of honour and the search for it could be seen as the sub-plot.

Friendships are tried. Enmities questioned.

Traditions explored and exploded.

The world is threatened by the opening of the rift and the release of the Endlords, the Shadow Creatures, the unmade (or undead) warriors of the past. But ultimately, nothing is resolved. Journeys continue. Specific threats are thwarted, but the menace remains.

Hence the long haul. If you are looking for a book to read. My only advice is: do not pick this one. For all its length, this is not a novel. It is an instalment.

If you come to it cold, you are gifted a 'story so far' synopsis which in half a dozen pages tries to bring you up to speed, with such a detailed account of what has happened to everyone involved that you haven't a hope of holding in your head as you dive into 'what happened next'. I suspect the only real answer is to start at the beginning with A Cavern of Black Ice... and read on.

I haven't done that. What I can tell you rests on this volume alone.

Without a doubt Jones has created a world, mapped it, peopled it with tribes and given them all rich traditions, religions, causes and conflicts. The detail is amazing. In the literal sense. There is too much of it. It stuns the senses, leads you away from the main thrust of the story, and leaves you lost and confused. Perhaps it works better starting at the beginning - but even so, I feel that her need to explain every bit-part-player's life story a little wearing and distracting. A comment about a sunset warrants an excursion into a two page telling of an ancient legend... losing the momentum from the battlement scene...

Momentum. Another flaw, for my taste. The main characters are all related or connected and one assumes the story started from a single point - but by this stage they have diverged along their different paths and in trying to follow each of them, the author gives them alternate chapters. They don't necessarily take a turn each, some will have to wait two or three before we hear from them again, but each chapter takes us away from the people of the last. On occasions she judges it right and leaves a character at a key moment of suspense, but mostly it is simply too episodic. As a reader I wasn't allowed to stay long enough with anyone to build up a rapport, to develop a sympathy or an antipathy towards them.

Similarly each of their journeys started to feel just a little tedious.

A re-reading of Tolkien is in order... to re-grasp the idea of following one plot-line through several episodes before leaving it to backtrack and pick up another.

There's much in here that I could love... but on balance it took me nearly all of the 600 pages to work out whose side I was on, and what my hopes for them might be. That's too long.

And that's a shame... because the clan concept and the world and mythology in which it exists are wonderful. But ultimately... I don't care enough to want to know who wins.

If you've enjoyed the previous two instalments, I don't think you'll be at all disappointed with this one - but be warned, the story continues...

If you haven't read the others... this really isn't the place to start.

If you like your fantasy just as detailed, but prefer a bit more pace try Sons of Oak and the rest of the Runelords series or for a sharper technological twist try The Iron Dragon's Daughter.

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