A Cavern Of Black Ice, by J. V. Jones | Literature Review

A Cavern of Ice is the first book in the Sword of Shadows series by J. V. Jones in 1999. It takes place in a fictional cold, taiga region known as the Northern Territories. It is a world that involves magic and an apocryphal prophecy.


Basically it begins when Vaylo Bludd, otherwise known as the Dog Lord, manages to destroy Clan Dhoone and take over their hold. This escalates into a war between them and the other clans, including Blackhail, which is the clan that Raif and Drey are retainers of. They return after fighting them off, but they come upon the dead body of the head of the Blackhail clan. Raif is immediately suspicious. Later on, the suspect Mace Blackhail continues solidifying his position as the new head of the clan and this leads Raif to question his own existence with the clan, especially with an ability that he has.

Another perspective involves a girl by the name of Ash locked away in a tower by her foster father, Penthero Iss, the ruler of Spire Vanis. She starts seeing what she’s capable of as well.

The plot is a little slow at the beginning but it starts moving forward at the middle of the book. For Raif and Ash, it’s pretty much a bildungsroman. They are both discovering their own selves as well as the world around them. We begin to see more of what exactly they’re capable of and more into the history of Jones’ fantasy world and mythopoeia. We also get to see how much the characters connect to one another.

There is a deus-ex-machina 3/4 into the book, but it’s kind of expected.


I’ve noticed there are some resemblances to ASOIAF. I’ve noticed that this published in the late 90’s, around the same time as “A Game of Thrones.” I did get the sense that Jones was trying to get on the George R. R. Martin bandwagon of making fantasy dark and realistic.

  1. grangelords seven gods=seven gods of Southron lords
  2. Rive watch=brothers of the watch
  3. Raif’s ability when aiming his arrow=bran’s ability with his direwolf
  4. there’s even an historical character named Robb. Yes Robb with two b’s.

On a positive note, however, I have noticed that there are historical and geographical truths within the setting. One of the characters mentions that there used to be kings and emperors, now there are clanholds. I think this represents the Dark Ages. The clanholds also bear resemblance to the Scottish, there are even some characters among the clanholds who speak in what can be determined as a Scottish accent. Sadaluk and his seal-trapping tribe are similar to the Inuits.

While the clanhold have their own laws, their members must be peaceful towards each other and members of other clans when they’re in a stovehouse, which is considered a place of rest in the vast Northern Territories, like an inn or a motel.


Raif: he starts becoming more and more defiant and starts demanding more and more answers. It started with his suspicion of Mace Blackhail. He starts off idolizing Drey and his uncle Angus and he starts maturing more in his own way.

However, later on the novel, there is something abhorrent that involves Raif. Yet when it’s mentioned to him or he’s reminded of it, the text doesn’t elaborate further on it or how Raif responds to it. He doesn’t appear, at least, to have any remorse. He’s not constantly dwelling on that occurence, thinking “no, no, how could this have happened?” I don’t know if he’s come to terms with it because it doesn’t seem to mention it.

Ash: As an infant, she entered into adopted Penthero Iss. He shelters her away and has Marafice Eye keep watch over her. Although I do relate to Raif, I found another way of relating to Ash. Her existence in the story is almost a way of asking the question “Would you rather be free but unhappy or unfree but happy?” I would go for the answer she would give in the novel and be free but unhappy.

Effie: Raif and Drey’s precocious younger sister. she serves as a literary updater of the status of the Blackhail clan, which I thought was quite interesting.

Penthero: He is the lord of Spire Vanis who keeps ash as his “almost-daughter.” Originally, the way he addresses his daughter, I actually thought there was a more intimate relationship between them, but as the plot progresses there is something more in depth (by that I mean her ability).

Mace: he’s a very machiavellian character who knows how to negotiate the law of the Blackhails to his favor, but later in the novel, he doesn’t seem to have any other ambition other than doing whatever he wants.

Vaylo: known as the Dog Lord because he surrounds himself with the dogs he uses for scavenging, hunting, and warfare. At first he is the villain, but he becomes more of a complex character as the story progresses. He’s a vainglorious blowhard but he does care about his family and his clan. He also is not afraid of heeding the advice of his retainer, Cluff Drybannock, which I think is a sign of intelligence and sober-mindedness.

Sadaluk: He’s an elder of an Ice-Trapping tribe who constantly has dreams of premonitions and forewarning. I don’t see enough of his story or the story of his tribe. I don’t see why he even matters in the majority of the story or how he connects with the broader story. Not in this installment at least.

Writing Style

Jones uses the typical simile structure too much which is basically “…like…something something.” It didn’t really engage me with the story. I wouldn’t have a problem with it if it popped up once in a while. Like when Raif’s uncle tells him about a sorcerer they confronted, he basically says, “Sorcery lives within him like the future lives within prophets and hell lives within the insane.” But what I did have a problem with was a simile like “Sarga Veys had ridden it to the surface like a wraith riding his ghost horse from hell.” Wraiths are part of the mythology, but it’s a pretty poor analogy since there’s no snippits of information regarding it. No elaboration. There are plenty of similes like that.

A Trudge through the Taiga for the Promised Land

I did feel immersed in the world, from the mundane tasks to Angus talking about history; but it doesn’t feel original. You could replace the clanholds with the wildlings and there would be no difference.

Jones, J. V. “A Cavern of Black Ice.” 1st Edition. Aspect. 1999.

Image Attribution: Micky Milkyway

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