Monday, April 15, 2013

Book Review - A Fortress of Grey Ice

The Fortress of Grey Ice – J V Jones
I had high hopes for J V Jones’ first book in the, “the Sword of Shadows” series and I was pleasantly surprised when “A Cavern of Black Ice” met all of them. Reviews heralded Jones as an author similar in style with George R R Martin, I agreed to an extant but also found a smidge of Abercrombie and a hint of Jennifer Fallon in there as well.
Knowing there was a long wait between books, I waited a long time to read the second book in the hope that the final book will be released when I get to it. My expectations were once again high.
The blurb:
The war to end all wars is coming. The Endlords are preparing themselves for invasion. City men and clansmen should come together to fight the dark forces, yet they feud amongst themselves. Only the Sull are preparing: an ancient, dwindling race, they fear this fight might be their last.
Before I start a review on the book itself, I would like to commend J. V. Jones on taking the effort to provide an in depth summary of the events that occurred in the first book. It is something I feel every fantasy book should have, but for some reason is never provided. All TV series do it, sometimes from one episode to the next. It just makes the reading experience that bit better.
In this instance not only did the summary provide a vital refresh of book one, but it also increased my excitement for the book I was about to read.
The Fortress of Grey Ice continues straight after the events of the first book. Once again the terrain is tough and the weather is bleak. Somehow, J. V. Jones continues to convey just how harsh and cold her world is, without it once sounding boring. The freezing temperature reaches out to you and makes you feel the chill.
The main character is again Raif, with other characters also getting their own points of view. In the first book, although I enjoyed Raif Severance, I found the people he interacted with more interesting than him. In this book however, it was Raif’s chapters that I enjoyed the most. Raif is far more vulnerable in this book. He fails early on in his mission and soon finds himself out of options of people he can turn to.
As a result Raif finds himself amongst the Maimed Men. It is here, he is reduced to surviving on his wits in a way of life alien to him. He is eager to prove himself yet at the same time cautious not to overstep the mark. The outcome is a much more likeable Raif who is pro-active and chooses his own destiny.
Ash Marsh too goes on a journey of discovery as she joins up with the Sull. The time she spend with the two mysterious Sull is intriguing. J. V. Jones uses these characters to carefully drip feeds us information about the world and its history. We knew from the first book that Ash was important, but in this book her potential is met with indifference. The Sull are happy to have acquired her, but she is dispensable. It is a nice touch as it makes her vulnerable.
Effie on the other hand, comes across as the victim a bit more. She is protected by a few who are loyal to her but is mostly passive in the events that unfold. She does however, have one defining moment that hints at the woman to come.
It is Raina who emerges as the strong force in the novel though. Disillusioned with the direction of her clan under the leadership of her husband, she realises that she must make changes herself. The growth of her character is fascinating as her attempts to involve others in her schemes constantly meet dead ends.
Other familiar characters take more of a back sit. Penthero Iss continues to manipulate the royalty but we only see his malevolence in fleeting moments, whilst Angus Lok has a greatly reduced role, which is disappointing considering he was one of the highlights of the first book. The Dog Lord has a higher profile this time round, but despite liking his character, I found his story disjointed and not as engaging as the others.
There are new characters too. Crope Is an interesting man. A giant with considerable strength who is also dim-witted may sound stereotypical, but he is anything but. His chapters are among the best and his innocence is quite touching.  
 Robbie Dhoone is a nice edition. He is seen through the eyes of his younger brother Bram. Bram witnesses the rise of his brother to clan chief. Robbie recruits several men to his cause but in the process leaves his bewildered brother behind.
Unfortunately, in terms of the plot, all of these different points of view remain just that – different. There is hardly any interaction among the main characters and so, no matter how excellent the writing is, or how interesting the storylines are, you never get a sense they are building towards anything. You can see where some characters are going to cross paths in future, but for the moment, each person continues in their own secluded arc.
This is not a bad thing, but the story would have benefitted with a tighter plot or at least a resolution to some of the characters. The ending despite being exciting and well written feels very similar to the first book and you get the sense that not much has been resolved. The final confrontation is also a little disappointing. It is confusing and over quickly.
All in all, I really enjoyed the “Fortress of Grey Ice.” In places it is excellent and there are never any moments where I felt it dragged, despite it being a large novel. However, it does suffer from the middle book syndrome, where the character’s arcs have all sprawled out in different directions and there is no sign of them coming together. This spoils the book a little although I am already looking forward to reading book three.
My Rating: 8.6