Friday 8 August 2008

Recommended reading: J.V. Jones

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.


ThRiNiDiR said...

Yes, Jones is another author I haven't read, but I want to *sigh*

Any review of her works coming up? :)

Adam Whitehead said...

The step up between Book of Words and Sword of Shadows is indeed nothing short of spectacular. I enjoyed Book of Words but it was VERY traditional, with the exception of the brilliant character of Tavalisk (who is rather immobile and just comments on the action from afar, but in a very amusing manner) and the sheer diabolic villainy of Baralis. Book of Words did improve immensely over its length, though, and I've been looking forward to a reappraisal of it for some time, although it's unlikely I'll get to it soon.

The Barbed Coil is a decent single-volume novel as well.

James said...

Thrindir: Yes, actually. I picked up A Sword from Red Ice - hardcover - from a charity shop at the weekend for £2.99 (RRP £17.99). So have put that on my to-read pile. And yes, check out Marco. The flamethrowers are cool...

Adam: Perhaps I ought to give BOW another chance if you think it gets better as it goes on.

Todd Newton said...

I completely endorse your recommendation as Jones is one of my newest favorite authors. The culture she has created in her world in the SOS series is just mindblowing, but keep in mind that it is NOT a trilogy (I believe there are 5 books planned). The only complaint I have about her novels is that the endings (on all three) seem a bit rushed. Seeing as they're not the actual end of the story this can almost be forgiven. But yes, these are worth the read for her style and fantastic world. Much different than most stuff out there. I'm so glad I picked up the first book on a whim.

Mark Newton said...

To add some intellectual, sagacious, highbrow commentary: You forgot to mention that she's pretty cute on some of her journal pictures. Why, if she was in the market for a toy boy...

James said...

TD: I have to say that when I originally heard a while back that the series was being extended to 5 books, I was a little disappointed. I guess I'm concerned that the focus of the story might get a bit muddled. We'll see. I agree about the endings being a bit rushed.

Mark: How dare you lower the tone of this blog with your sordid talk, Sir. And for the record, you're absolutely right. You ought to email her... ;)

Todd Newton said...

I originally thought it was a trilogy but about 2/3rds into the 3rd book I was like "there's no way she can wrap this up" because she had introduced too much new info for it to be the final volume. Maybe that affected my feelings about the ending, who knows. But yeah, I can't deny that she is a fantastic author/world builder.

And I totally agree, she is teh hawtness.