I know that J. V. Jones' A Sword From Red Ice was published in hardback last year, but the paperback is not to be released until later this year and so it can still count as a recommendation for 2008.
Readers often moan about the length of time it takes an author to deliver the latest volume in a series, which in most cases is two years or sometimes more.
It took five years for A Sword From Red Ice to materialise. That's a heck of a long wait. Fortunately, I only started reading the series about two years ago so I've not had to wait as long, but that's still a pretty big delay. Apparently it's not all Jones' fault either, as there was some sort of problem at the publisher's end as well.
While it was finally released in hardback in October 2007, the mass-market edition is not due for release (in the UK) until November 2008. I have to say, this is extremely annoying. The book took far too long to come out as it was, so why the publishers insist on leaving a further year to put out the paperback edition is beyond me. Perhaps they hope desperate fans will cave in and, not wanting to face the prospect of another year in the cold, snap up a hardback copy. Whatever the reason, it's annoying in the extreme. I'm not a fan of hardback books (too hard to carry around and read on the train) and so I'm waiting for November.
Anyway, back to the book. Here's the blurb:
The Long Night has begun. The Endlords and their dark army of Unmade prepare to unleash untold destruction upon the world. Every Sull warrior must step forward and fight, or risk the North falling into eternal darkness. Key to mankind's survival is the sacred warrior Ash March. But for Ash to realise her true potential as a Reach, and become the Sull's greatest weapon, she must keep herself safe as the perils that surround her multiply. Raif Sevrance has an equally perilous task. The exile must travel to the barren wastes of the Red Glaciers and recover the legendary sword named Loss. For Sull legend decrees that he who wields the Sword from Red Ice will bring terror to their enemies. But fulfilment of these goals may yet come too late. In the remote reaches of the Bitter Hills, the Endlords' minions have made a cataclysmic discovery: a crack in the Blindwall, an ancient and unguarded passage leading directly into the realms of men.
I don't think the blurb really does the series justice; if you've not read the two previous books, this one probably just sounds like another quest novel. Obviously having not read it, I can't claim this viewpoint is false, however the story so far is a much more complex beast than that and I expect this book to continue this trend. Yes, there are several standard tropes, but Jones' has really excelled in creating a harsh, believable world that is both dangerous and absorbing at the same time. I read the first novel of her debut trilogy, The Baker's Boy, and thought it was a bog-standard fantasy with few redeeming qualities. Worse, despite some darker moments, it came across as a bit young-adult at times.
Something happened after Jones finished that trilogy, because The Sword of Shadows series is much more mature, with a host of interesting characters and a multi-layered story. On the one hand you've got the Endlords and their desire to break free from their dimensional prison to wreak havoc on the world, but you've also got the war between the human clans, the emergence of the Sull race, the politics of the city of Spire Vanis, and other threads. It's gripping story that, so far, has been wonderfully told. In fact, I would rate it as one of the best epic fantasies around at the moment.
My opinion my change after reading A Sword From Red Ice. Firstly, the novel has received rather mixed reviews. Secondly, it has been revealed that the series will now run to five books, as opposed to the original trilogy. Whenever you hear this, it does make you worry. One of the main criticisms of the new book is that there are portions where precious little happens, so I hope Jones has not fallen into the 'endless series' syndrome. That would be a massive shame.
A Sword From Red Ice is due to be released in the UK by Orbit in paperback on 6 November 2008.