I first read J. V. Jones a few years ago in my university days, when I picked up her debut novel The Bakers Boy.
It didn't do anything for me at all. It was a rather standard story (young kitchen boy and spirited princess on the run from nasty wizard) set in a bland medieval-esque world. There were the odd darker, more mature moments (I mean, it does start with a murder and a rape in the first chapter) but by and large it was a rather lacklustre reading experience. I never picked up the next book in the series.
Yet whenever I was browsing the fantasy section in a bookstore, my eyes would always be drawn to the cover of the second novel - A Fortress of Grey Ice - in Jones's second trilogy, Sword of Shadows (see left). You can't really appreciate how good this cover is from the image on the left, but I always thought it was a terrific image. The blurb on the back intrigued me as well.
So I thought, what the hell. I'll give the series a try. I therefore picked up A Cavern of Black Ice (the first book in the series) and was promptly blown away. Not just by the harsh world Jones had created and the wonderful characters, but also by how different her writing style was from the other novel of hers I'd read previously. Immediately it was evident to me that Sword of Shadows was a darker, bleaker and more serious series than the one that preceded it. The change was nothing short of astounding. Jones had gone from writing a book that failed to appeal to me at all by writing one that left me totally hooked.
I've not yet read the third novel in the sequence - A Sword from Red Ice - but from what I've read so far, I can safely say the only bad thing about the series is the series title - Sword of Shadows - which just does not do the series justice. Otherwise, the first two books just excel in every area. The part of the world that the series is set in is far more interesting than that of the previous series, while there are some truly outstanding, complex characters (my favourites being the two 'baddies' - Penthero Iss and Marafice Eye). Jones makes use of some well-known fantasy tropes (the nasties breaking free of their prison somewhere in another dimension) but handles it so well you barely notice. On top of that, you have plenty of battles, intrigue and action - in other words, everything you'd expect from a good epic fantasy. There's also a wonderful twist that I didn't see coming (though I'm not sure whether that was simply because I never finished the first trilogy, as they are tenuously linked).
Admittedly the latest instalment in the series doesn't seem to have been lauded quite as much as the first two novels, but I'm waiting until October to cast my own judgement on it.
Recommended first purchase: A Cavern of Black Ice
First novel in the Sword of Shadows series, and a cracking one at that.
Recommended follow-up purchase: A Fortress of Grey Ice
Second novel in the same sequence, even better than the first.
Recommended wildcard purchase: The Barbed Coil
A stand-alone novel that has received many positive reviews and comments, one from Robert Jordan no less. Probably preferable to The Bakers Boy (first novel in Jones's first trilogy) but then if you like more linear, traditional fantasy then The Baker's Boy might suit you better.