A Cavern of Black Ice (Sword of Shadows Series #1)

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Overview

HIGH ADVENTURE ON THE SWORD EDGE OF DESTINY

As a newborn Ash March was abandoned--left for dead at the foot of a frozen mountain. Found and raised by the Penthero Iss, the mighty Surlord of Spire Vanis, she has always known she is different. Terrible dreams plague her and sometimes in the darkness she hears dread voices from another world. Iss watches her as she grows to womanhood, eager to discover what powers his ward might possess. As his ...

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A Cavern of Black Ice

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Overview

HIGH ADVENTURE ON THE SWORD EDGE OF DESTINY

As a newborn Ash March was abandoned--left for dead at the foot of a frozen mountain. Found and raised by the Penthero Iss, the mighty Surlord of Spire Vanis, she has always known she is different. Terrible dreams plague her and sometimes in the darkness she hears dread voices from another world. Iss watches her as she grows to womanhood, eager to discover what powers his ward might possess. As his interest quickens, he sends his living blade, Marafice Eye, to guard her night and day.

Raif Sevrance, a young man of Clan Blackhail, also knows he is different, with uncanny abilities that distance him from the clan. But when he and his brother survive an ambush that plunges the entire Northern Territories into war, he yet seeks justice for his own . . . even if means he must forsake clan and kin.

Ash and Raif must learn to master their powers and accept their joint fate if they are to defeat an ancient prophecy and prevent the release of the pure evil known as the End Lords.

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Editorial Reviews

Dallas Morning News

"Peopled with great characters. . . guaranteed to send chills through the bones."
Des Moines Sunday Register

"J.V.Jones strings out the suspense right up until the very last word."
Locus

"Tough, incisive, character-driven fantasy."
SFX

"Fabulous . . . a trilogy which is sure to take readers everywhere by storm."
From the Publisher

"Peopled with great characters. . . guaranteed to send chills through the bones." --Dallas Morning News on A Cavern of Black Ice

"Fabulous . . . a trilogy which is sure to take readers everywhere by storm." --SFX on A Cavern of Black Ice

"J.V.Jones strings out the suspense right up until the very last word." --Des Moines Sunday Register on A Cavern of Black Ice

"Tough, incisive, character-driven fantasy." --Locus on A Cavern of Black Ice

"A complex tale of sorcery and swordsmanship, intrigue and affairs of the heart." --Library Journal on A Fortress of Grey Ice

"A superb novel, sculpted from colorful vocabulary and fantastic clarity [by] a brilliant storyteller sure to continue her dazzling career....Read it, or regret it later...a triumph." --SFX on The Barbed Coil

"Wonderful . . . J. V. Jones is a striking writer." -- Robert Jordan on The Baker's Boy

"J.V. Jones is quite a find . . . . A deliciously intricate tale." --Katherine Kurtz, author of the Deryni series, on The Baker's Boy

"One of fantasy fiction's newest sensations . . . Jones became a bestselling novelist in only two years . . . [she] invests her tale with characters as rich as oven-baked bread, and with a sense of humor drawn from the pubs in her homeland, England." --Des Moines Sunday Register on Master and Fool

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The first volume of Jones's (The Barbed Coil, etc.) new trilogy is set in a sub-arctic land so vividly realized that it contributes notably to the book's suspense and emotional impact--even as it almost overpowers its characters. Ashd March, the adopted daughter of a nobleman; Raif and Dray Sevrance, two accomplished archers; and Angus Lok, a once formidable warrior, are becoming increasingly aware, through alarming signs--a camp of murdered men, a recurring nightmare of ice and blood, an ominous call to arms--of a magical evil coming their way. The destinies of these four, particularly of Ash and Raif, become progressively entwined, even entangled, as the novel lumbers toward its inconclusive ending. Throughout, Jones skillfully mixes bits borrowed from history, folklore, religion (her shamans are particularly well done) and other fantasy works, but her attention to these details and her determination to introduce every element of her trilogy at once slow the pacing and sometimes create more confusion than clarity. Nonetheless, Jones has a real gift for evocative description, and the novel will satisfy most saga lovers. Agent, Russ Galen.
Library Journal
A fugitive from his clan and an orphan driven by inner voices join forces to prevent the return of ancient powers whose coming presages the end of the world. The author of The Book of Words trilogy (Master and Fool, LJ 10/15/96) begins a new fantasy epic set in a harsh world of warring clans and ruthless sorcerers. Jones's skillful storytelling creates an atmosphere of rising tension and dark foreboding that sets the stage for future sequels. A solid choice for fantasy collections.
Des Moines Sunday Register
Filled with great characters…strings out the suspense right up until the very last word.
The Pilot
Dark sorcery, adventure and peril…a sparkling first volume in this new trilogy.
Kirkus Reviews
New doorstopper fantasy (and first of a trilogy entitled Sword of Shadows) set in the same world as Jones's Book of Words trilogy, but otherwise unconnected. Frigid winter grips the Northern Territories. Ambitious, malignant Penthero Iss, Surlord of Mask Fortress, possesses a broken, captive sorcerer whom he tortures to obtain magical power. To weaken and distract the barbarian warriors of the Clanholds, he's sent his agent, the sorcerer Sarga Veys, to set clan against clan and brother against brother. And his adoptive daughter, Ash March, is terrified of him: she realizes she's being raised for some dreadful purpose. As a result of Sarga Veys's maneuvers, young Raif Sevrance is outcast from Clan Blackhail; his father, the clan chief, lies dead, while the new chief, the treacherous Mace Blackhail, commits his fellow-clansmen to slaughtering women and children. And poor Ash, driven almost mad by the terrible, seductive voices that plunder her spirit through her dreams, steels herself to run away. Luckily, Raif and his uncle, Angus Lok, happen by. Angus, a member of the good-magic Phage, at once recognizes Ash's innate magic powers and fights Iss's men to prevent her recapture, while Raif's sorcerous Old Blood taint enables him to tap into Ash's tormented visions. Helped by the Sull (elves, sort of), they learn that Ash is a Reach: she has the power to break into the Blind, the underworld where ancient, evil sorcerers are confined, and release them into the world. But even if Ash can resist their dreadful siren voices, the magic growing within will kill her-unless she can reach the remote Cavern of Black Ice and discharge the magic energies. Imaginative and vivid,with a showdown that, after 752 well-padded, sometimes unpleasantly sadistic pages, falls flat. Still, Jones (The Barbed Coil, 1997, etc.) has talent, and it shows. .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765345516
  • Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
  • Publication date: 2/17/2005
  • Series: Sword of Shadows Series , #1
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 792
  • Sales rank: 388,873
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.74 (h) x 1.28 (d)

Meet the Author

J. V. Jones is the author of the bestselling Book of Words trilogy, The Barbed Coil, and A Cavern of Black Ice, the first book of the Sword of Shadows series. Born in England, she now makes her home in San Diego, California, where she's working on the third Sword of Shadows novel, A Sword from Red Ice.

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Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


The Badlands

Raif Sevrance set his sights on the target and called the ice hare to him. A moment of disorientation followed, where the world dropped out of focus like a great dark stone sinking to the bottom of a lake; then, in the shortest space that a moment could be, he perceived the animal's heart. The light, sounds, and odors of the badlands slid away, leaving nothing but the weight of blood in the ice hare's chest and the hummingbird flutter of its heart. Slowly, deliberately, Raif angled his bow away from the target. The arrow cracked the freezing air like a word spoken out loud. As its iron blade shot past the hare, the creature's head came up and it sprang for cover in a cushion of black sedge.

"Take the shot again," Drey said. "You sent that wide on purpose."

Raif lowered his bow and glanced over at his older brother. Drey's face was partially shaded by his fox hood, but the firm set of his mouth was clear. Raif paused, considered arguing, then shrugged and reset his footing on the tundra. It never felt good deceiving Drey.

Fingers smoothing down the backing of his horn-and-sinew bow, Raif looked over the windblown flats of the badlands. Panes of ice already lay thick over melt ponds. In the flattened colt grass beneath Raif's feet hoarfrost grew as silently and insidiously as mold on second-day bread. The few trees that managed to survive in the gravelly floodplain were wind-crippled blackstone pines and prostrate hemlock. Directly ahead lay a shallow draw filled with loose rocks and scrubby bushes that looked as tough and bony as moose antlers. Raif dipped his gaze a fraction lower tothe brown lichen mat surrounding a pile of wet rocks. Even on a morning as cold as this, the lick was still running.

As Raif watched, another ice hare popped up its head. Cheeks puffing, ears trembling, it held its position, listening for danger. It wanted the salt in the lick. Game animals came from leagues around to drink at the trickle of salt water that bled across the rocks in the draw. Tem said the lick welled up from an underground stream.

Raif raised his bow, slid an arrow from the quiver at his waist. In one smooth motion he nocked the iron arrowhead against the plate and drew the bowstring back to his chest. The hare swiveled its head. Its dark eyes looked straight at Raif. Too late. Raif already had the creature's heart in his sights. Kissing the string, Raif let the arrow fly. Fingers of ice mist parted, a faint hiss sounded, and the arrowhead shot straight into the hare's rib cage. If the creature made a sound, Raif didn't hear it. Carried back by the force of the blow, it collapsed into the lick.

"That's three to you. None to me." Drey's voice sounded flat, resigned.

Raif pretended to check his bow for hairpin cracks.

"Come on. Let's shoot at targets. No more hares are going to show now you've sent a live one into the lick." Drey reached out and touched Raif's bow. "You could have used a smaller head on that arrow, you know. You're supposed to kill the hare, not disembowel it."

Raif looked up. Drey was grinning, just a bit. Relieved, Raif grinned back at him. Drey was two years older than he, better at everything an older brother should be better at. Up until this winter he had been better at shooting, too. A lot better.

Abruptly Raif tucked his bow into his belt and ran for the draw. Tem never let them shoot anything purely for sport, and the hares had to be taken back to camp, skinned, and roasted. The pelts were Raif's. Another couple more and he'd have enough for a winter coat for Effie. Not that Effie had much use for a coat. She was the only eight-year-old in Clan Blackhail who didn't enjoy running around in the snow. Frowning, Raif twisted the arrows free from the twig-thin bones of the hare's rib cage, careful not to break the shafts. Timber straight enough for arrows was rare in the badlands.

As he sealed the carcass in his game pouch, Raif checked the position of the sun. Nearly noon now. A storm heading elsewhere blew eastward in the far north. Dark gray clouds rolled across the horizon like smoke from a distant fire. Raif shivered. The Great Want lay to the north. Tem said that if a storm didn't begin in the Want, then it sure as stone would end there.

"Hey! Rough Jaw! Get your bow over here and let's shred some wood." Drey sent an expertly pitched stone skittering off rocks and hummocks, to land with a devilish skip precisely at Raif's feet. "Or are you scared your lucky streak just ended?"

Almost against his will, Raif's hand rose to his chin. His skin felt as bristly as a frozen pinecone. He was Rough Jaw all right. No argument there. "Paint the target, Sevrance Cur. Then I'll let you take a hand's worth of practice shots while I restring my bow for wood."

Even a hundred paces in the distance, Raif saw Drey's jaw drop. Restring my bow for wood was exactly the sort of high-blown thing a master bowman would say. Raif could hardly keep from laughing out loud. Ignoring the insult and the boasting, Drey snorted loudly and began plucking fistfuls of grass from the tundra. By the time Raif caught up with him, Drey had smeared the grass over the trunk of a frost-killed pine, forming a roughly circular target, wet with snowmelt and grass sap.

Drey shot first. Stepping back one hundred and fifty paces, he held his bow at arm's length. Drey's bow was a recurve made of winter-cut yew, dried over two full years, and hand-tillered to reduce shock. Raif envied him for it. His own bow was a clan hand-down, used by anyone who had the string to brace it.

Drey took his time sighting his bow. He had a sure, unshakable grip and the strength to hold the string for as long as his ungloved fingers could bear. Just when Raif was set to call "Shot due," his brother released the string. The arrow landed with a dull thunk, dead center of the smeared-on target. Turning, Drey inclined his head at his younger brother. He did not smile.

Raif's bow was already in hand, his arrow already chosen. With Drey's arrow shaft still quivering in the target, Raif sighted his bow. The pine was long dead. Cold. When Raif tried to call it to him as he had with the ice hare, it wouldn't come. The wood stood its distance. Raif felt nothing: no quickening of his pulse, no dull pain behind his eyes, no metal tang in his mouth. Nothing. The target was just a target. Unsettled, Raif centered his bow and searched for the still line that would lead his arrow home. Seeing nothing but a faraway tree, Raif released his string. Straightaway he knew the shot was bad. He'd been gripping the handle too tightly, and his fingertips had grazed the string on release. The bow shot back with a thwack, and Raif's shoulder took a bad recoil. The arrow landed a good two hands lower than the target.

"Shoot again." Drey's voice was cold.

Raif massaged his shoulder, then selected a second arrow. For luck, he brushed the fletchings against the raven lore he wore on a cord around his neck. The second shot was better, but it still hit a thumb's length short of dead center. Raif turned to look at his brother. It was his shot.

Drey made a small motion with his bow. "Again."

Raif shook his head. "No. It's your turn."

Drey shook his own head right back. "You sent those two wide on purpose. Now shoot."

"No, I didn't. It was a true shot. I—"

"No one heart-kills three hares on the run, then misses a target as big as a man's chest. No one." Drey pushed back his fox hood. His eyes were dark. He spat out the wad of black curd he'd been chewing. "I don't need mercy shots. Either shoot with me fair, or not at all."

Looking at his brother, seeing his big hands pressing hard into the wood of his bow and the whiteness of his thumbs as he worked on an imagined imperfection, Raif knew words would get him nowhere. Drey Sevrance was eighteen years old, a yearman in the clan. This past summer he'd taken to braiding his hair with black leather strips and wearing a silver earring in his ear. Last night around the firepit, when Dagro Blackhail had burned the scum off an old malt and dropped his earring into the clear liquor remaining, Drey had done the same. All the sworn clansmen had. Metal next to the skin attracted frostbite. And everyone in the clan had seen the black nubs of unidentifiable flesh that the 'bite left behind. You could find many willing to tell the story of how Jon Marrow's member had frozen solid when he was jumped by Dhoonesmen while he was relieving himself in the brack. By the time he had seen the Dhoonesmen off and pulled himself up from the nail-hard tundra, his manhood was frozen like a cache of winter meat. By all accounts he hadn't felt a thing until he was brought into the warmth of the roundhouse and the stretched and shiny flesh began to thaw. His screams had kept the clan awake all night.

Raif ran his hand along his bowstring, warming the wax. If Drey needed to see him take a third shot to prove he wasn't shamming, then take another shot he would. He'd lost the desire to fight.

Again Raif tried to call the dead tree to him, searching for the still line that would guide his arrow to the heart. Although the blackstone pine had perished ten hunting seasons earlier, it had hardly withered at all. Only the needles were missing. The pitch in the trunk preserved the crown, and the cold dryness of the badlands hindered the growth of fungus beneath the bark. Tem said that in the Great Want trees took hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years to decay.

Seconds passed as Raif concentrated on the target. The longer he held his sights, the deader the tree seemed. Something was missing. Ice hares were real living things. Raif felt their warmth in the space between his eyes. He imagined the lode of hot pulsing blood in their hearts and saw the still line that linked those hearts to his arrowhead as clearly as a dog sees his leash. Slowly Raif was coming to realize that still line meant death.

Frustration finally got the better of him, and he stopped searching for the inner heart of the target and centered his sights on the visual heart instead. With the fletchings of Drey's arrow in his eyeline, Raif released the shot.

The moment his thumb lifted from the string, a raven kaawed. High and shrill, the carrion feeder's cry seemed to split the very substance of time. Raif felt a finger of ice tap his spine. His vision blurred. Saliva jetted into his mouth, thick and hot and tasting of metal. Stumbling back, he lost his grip on the bow and it fell to the ground point first. A crack sounded as it landed. The arrow hit the tree with a dull thud, placing a knuckle short of Drey's own shot. Raif didn't care. Black points raced across his vision, scorching like soot belched from a fire.

"Raif! Raif!"

Raif felt Drey's huge, muscular arms clamp around his shoulders, smelled his brother's scent of neat's-foot oil, tanned leather, horses, and sweat. Glancing up, Raif saw Drey's brown eyes staring into his. He looked worried. His prized yewbow lay flat on the ground.

"Here, sit." Not waiting for any compliance on Raif's part, Drey forced his younger brother onto the tundra floor. The frozen earth bit into Raif's buckskin pants. Turning away from his brother, Raif cleared his mouth of the metal-tasting saliva. His eyes stung. A sickening pain in his forehead made him retch. He clenched his jaw until bone clicked.

Seconds passed. Drey said nothing, just held his brother as tightly as he could. Part of Raif wanted to smile; the last time Drey had crushed him like this was after he fell twenty feet from a foxtail pine three springs back. The fall only broke an ankle. Drey's subsequent bear hug had succeeded in breaking two ribs.

Strangely, the memory had a calming effect on Raif, and the pain slowly subsided. Raif's vision blurred sharply and then reset itself. A feeling of badness grew in him. Swiveling around in his brother's grip, Raif looked in the direction of the camp. The stench of metal washed over him, as thick as grease smoke from the rendering pits.

Drey followed his gaze. "What's the matter?" His voice was tight, strained.

"Don't you feel it?"

Drey shook his head.

The camp was five leagues to the south, hidden in the shelter of the flood basin. All Raif could see was the rapidly darkening sky and the low ridges and rocky flats of the badlands. Yet he felt something. Something unspeakable, as when nightmares jolted him awake in pitch darkness or when he thought back to the day Tem had shut him in the guidehouse with his mother's corpse. He had been eight at the time, old enough to pay due respect to the dead. The guidehouse was dark and filled with smoke. The hollowed-out basswood where his mother lay smelled of wet earth and rotten things. Sulfur had been rubbed into the carved inner trunk to keep insects and carrion feeders away from the body when it was laid upon the ground.

Raif smelled badness now. He smelled stinking metal and sulfur and death. Fighting against Drey's grip, he cried, "We have to go back."

Drey released his grip on Raif and pulled himself to his feet. He plucked his dogskin gloves from his belt and pulled them on with two violent movements. "Why?"

Raif shook his head. The pain and nausea had gone, but something else had come in its place. A tight shivering fear. "The camp."

Drey nodded. He took a deep breath and looked set to speak, then abruptly stopped himself. Offering Raif his hand, he heaved his brother off the ground with a single tug. By the time Raif had brushed the frost from his buckskins, Drey had collected both bows and was pulling the arrow shafts from the dead tree. As he turned away from the blackstone pine, Raif noticed the fletchings in Drey's grip were shaking. This one small sign of his brother's fear worried Raif more than anything else. Drey was his older brother by two years. Drey was afraid of nothing.

They had left the camp before dawn, before even the embers on the firepit had burned cold. No one except Tem knew they had gone. It was their last chance to shoot game before they broke camp and returned to the roundhouse for winter. The previous night Tem had warned them about going off on their own in the badlands, though he knew well enough that nothing he said would stop them.

"Sons!" he had said, shaking his large, grizzled head. "I might as well spend my days picking ticks from the dogs as tell you two what you should and shouldn't do. At least come sundown I'd have a deloused pup to show for my trouble." Tem would glower as he spoke, and the skin above his eyebrows would bunch into knots, yet his eyes always gave him away.

Just this morning as Raif pulled back the hide fastening on the tent he shared with his father and brother, he noticed a small bundle set upon the warming stone. It was food. Hunters' food. Tem had packed two whole smoke-cured ptarmigan, a brace of hard-boiled eggs, and enough strips of hung mutton to mend an elk-size hole in a tent. All this for his sons to eat on a hunting trip he had expressly forbidden them to take.

Raif smiled. Tem Sevrance knew his sons well.

"Put on your gloves." It was Drey, acting just like an older brother. "And pull up your hood. Temperature's dropping fast."

Raif did what he was told, struggling to put on gloves with hands that felt big and slow. Drey was right: It was getting colder. Another shiver worked its way up Raif's spine, making his shoulders jerk awkwardly. "Let's go." Drey's thoroughness was beginning to nettle him. They had to get back to the camp. Now. Something wasn't right.

Although Tem warned them constantly about the danger of using up all their energy by running in the cold, Raif couldn't stop himself. Despite spitting profusely, he couldn't remove the taste of metal from his mouth. The air smelled bad, and the clouds overhead seemed darker, lower, closer. To the south lay a line of bald, featureless hills, and west of them lay the Coastal Ranges. Tem said that the Ranges were the reason why the Want and the badlands were so dry. He said their peaks milked every last drop of moisture from passing storms.

The three hares Raif had shot earlier thumped up and down in his pack as he ran. Raif hated their warmth against his thigh, was sickened by their fresh-kill smell. When the two brothers came upon Old Hoopers Lake, Raif tore the pack from his belt and threw it into the center of the dull black water. Old Hoopers wasn't frozen yet. River fed, it would take a full week of frost before its current-driven waters plated. Still, the lake had the greasy look of imminent ice about it. As Raif's pack sank to the bottom, swirls of vegetable oils and tufts of elk hair bobbed up and down on the surface.

Drey swore. Raif didn't catch what he said, but he imagined the words waste of fine game in their place.

As the brothers ran south, the landscape gradually changed. Trees grew straighter and taller, and there were more of them. Beds of lichen were replaced by long grasses, bushes, and sedge. Horse and game tracks formed paths through the frozen foliage, and fat grouse flew up from the undergrowth, all flying feathers and spitting beaks.

Raif barely noticed. Close to the camp perimeter now, they should have been able to see smoke, hear the sound of metal rasping against metal, raised voices, laughter. Dagro Blackhail's foster son, Mace, should be riding to greet them on his fat-necked cob.

Drey swore again. Quietly, to himself.

Raif resisted the urge to glance over at his brother's face. He was frightened of what he might see.

A powerful horseman, archer, and hammerman, Drey pulled ahead of Raif as he charged down the slope to the camp. Raif pushed himself harder, balling his fists and thrusting out his chin. He didn't want to lose sight of his brother, hated the thought of Drey arriving at the tent circle alone.

Fear stretched over Raif's body like a drying hide, pulling at his skin and gut. They had left thirteen men standing by at the camp: Dagro Blackhail and his son, Mace; Tem; Chad and Jorry Shank; Mallon Clayhorn and his son, Darri, whom everyone called Halfmast . . .

Raif shook his head softly. Thirteen men alone on the badlands plains suddenly seemed unbelievably easy prey. Dhoonesmen, Bluddsmen, and Maimed Men were out there. Raif's stomach clenched. And the Sull. The Sull were out there, too.

The dark, weather-stained tents came into view. All was quiet. There were no horses or dogs in sight. The firepit was a dark gaping hole in the center of the cleared space. Loose tent flaps ripped in the wind like banners at battle's end. Drey had broken ahead, but now he stopped and waited for Raif to join him. His breath came hard and fast, and spent air vented from his nose and mouth in great white streams. He did not look round as Raif approached.

"Draw your weapon," he hissed.

Raif already had, but he scored the blade of his halfsword against its boiled-leather scabbard, mimicking the noise of drawing. Drey moved forward when he heard it.

They came upon Jorry Shank's body first. It was lying in a feed ditch close to the horse posts. Drey had to turn the body to find the deathwound. The portion of Jorry's face that had been lying against the earth had taken on the yellow bloom of frozen flesh. The wound was as big as a fist, heart deep, made with a greatsword, and for some reason there was hardly any blood.

"Maybe the blood froze as it left him," Drey murmured, settling the body back in place. The words sounded like a prayer.

"He never got chance to draw his weapon. Look." Raif was surprised at how calm his voice sounded.

Drey nodded. He patted Jorry's shoulder and then stood away.

"There's horse tracks. See." Raif kicked the ground near the first post. He found it easier to concentrate on what he could see here, on the camp perimeter, than turn his sights toward the tent circle and the one shabby, oft repaired, hide-and-moose-felt tent that belonged to Tem Sevrance. "Those shoemarks weren't made by Blackhail horses."

"Bluddsmen use a grooved shoe."

So did other clans and even some city men, yet Raif had no desire to contradict his brother. Clan Bludd's numbers were swelling, and border and cattle raids had become more frequent. Vaylo Bludd had seven sons, and it was rumored he wanted a separate clanhold for each of them. Mace Blackhail said that Vaylo Bludd killed and ate his own dogs, even when he had elk and bear meat turning on the spit above his fire. Raif didn't believe the story for a moment&#151to eat one's own dogs was considered a kind of cannibalism to a clansman, justifiable only in the event of ice-bound starvation and imminent death&#151but others, including Drey, did. Mace Blackhail was three years older than Drey: when he spoke, Drey took heed.

As Drey and Raif approached the tent circle, their pace slowed. Dead dogs lay in the dirt, saliva frozen around their blunted fangs, their coats shaggy with ice. Fixed yellow eyes stared from massive gray heads. Glacial winds had set rising hackles in place, giving the dogs' corpses the bunched-neck look of buffalo. As with Jorry Shank's body, there was little blood.

Raif smelled stinking, smelted metal everywhere. The air around the camp seemed different, yet he didn't have the words to describe it. It reminded him of the slowly congealing surface water on Old Hoopers Lake. Something had caused the very air to thicken and change. Something with the force of winter itself.

"Raif! Here!"

Drey had crossed into the tent circle and was kneeling close to the firepit. Raif saw the usual line of pots and drying hides suspended on spruce branches over the pit, and the load of timber waiting to be quartered for firewood. He even saw the partially butchered black bear carcass that Dagro Blackhail had brought down yesterday in the sedge meadow to the east. The bearskin, which he had been so proud of, had been set to dry on a nearby rack. Dagro had planned to present it as a gift to his wife, Raina, when the hunt party returned to the roundhouse.

But Dagro Blackhail, chief of Clan Blackhail, would never return home.

Drey knelt over his partially frozen corpse. Dagro had taken a massive broadsword stroke from behind. His hands were speckled with blood, and the thick-bladed cleaver he still held in his grip was similarly marked. The blood was neither his nor his attackers'. It came from the skinned and eviscerated bear carcass lying at his feet; Dagro must have been finishing the butchering when he was jumped from behind.

Raif took a quick unsteady breath and sank down by his brother's side. Something was blocking his throat. Dagro Blackhail's great bear of a face looked up at him. The clan chief did not look at peace. Fury was frozen in his eyes. Glaciated ice in his beard and mustache framed a mouth pressed hard in anger. Raif thanked the Stone Gods that his brother wasn't the kind of man to speak needlessly, and the two sat in silence, shoulders touching, as they paid due respect to the man who had led Clan Blackhail for twenty-nine years and was loved and honored by all in the clan.

"He's a fair man," Tem had said once about the clan chief in a rare moment when he was inclined to speak about matters other than hunting and dogs. "It may seem like small purchase, and you'll find others in the clan willing to heap all manner of praise upon Dagro Blackhail's head, but fairness is the hardest thing for a man to practice day to day. A chief can find himself having to speak up against his sworn brothers and his kin. And that's not easy for anyone to do."

It was, Raif thought, one of the longest speeches he'd ever heard his father make.

"It's not right, Raif." Drey said only that as he raised himself clear of Dagro Blackhail's body, but Raif knew what he meant. It wasn't right.

Mounted men had been here; broadswords and greatswords had been used; clan horses were gone, stolen. Dogs were slaughtered. The camp lay in open ground, Mace Blackhail was standing dogwatch: a raiding party should not have been able to approach unheeded. Mounted men made noise, especially here in the badlands, where the bone-hard tundra dealt harshly with anything traveling upon it. And then there was the lack of blood . . .

Raif pushed back his hood and ran a gloved hand through the tangle of his dark hair. Drey was making his way toward Tem's tent. Raif wanted to call him back, to tell him that they should check the other tents first, the rendering pits, the stream bank, the far perimeter, anywhere except that tent. Drey, as if sensing some small portion of his younger brother's thoughts, turned. He made a small beckoning gesture with his hand and then waited. Two bright points of pain prickled directly behind Raif's eyes. Drey always waited.

Together the sons of Tem Sevrance entered their father's tent. The body was just a few paces short of the entrance. Tem looked as if he had been on his way out when the broadsword cracked his sternum and clavicle, sending splinters of bone into his windpipe, lungs, and heart. He had fallen with his halfsword in his hand, but as with Jorry Shank, the weapon was unbloodied.

"Broadsword again," Drey said, his voice high and then rough as he sought to control it. "Bludd favors them."

Raif didn't acknowledge the words. It took all he had just to stand and look upon his father's body. Suddenly there was too much hollow space in his chest. Tem didn't seem as stiff as the others, and Raif stripped off his right glove and bent to touch what was visible of his father's cheek. Cold, dead flesh. Not frozen, but utterly cold, absent.

Pulling back as if he had touched something scorching hot rather than just plain cold, Raif rubbed his hand on his buckskins, wiping off whatever he imagined to be upon it.

Tem was gone.

Gone.

Without waiting for Drey, Raif pushed aside the tent flap and struck out into the rapidly darkening camp. His heart was beating in wild, irregular beats, and taking action seemed the only way to stop it.

When Drey found him a quarter later, Raif's right arm was stripped to the shoulder and blood from three separate cuts was pouring along his forearm and down to his wrist. Drey understood immediately. Tearing at his own sleeve, he joined his brother as he went among the slain men. All had died without blood on their weapons. To a clansman there was no honor in dying with a clean blade, so Raif was taking up their weapons one by one, drawing their blades across his skin, and spilling his own blood as a substitute. It was the one thing the two brothers could give to their clan. When they returned home to the roundhouse and someone asked, as someone always did, if the men had died fighting, Raif and Drey could now reply, "Their weapons ran with blood."

To a clansman those words mattered dear.

So the two brothers moved around the camp, discovering bodies in and out of tents, some with pale icicles of urine frozen to their legs, others with hair set in spiky mats where they had been caught bathing, a few with frozen wads of black curds still in their mouths, and one man&#151Meth Ganlow&#151with his beefy arms fixed around his favorite dog, protecting the wolfling even in death. A single swordstroke had killed both man and beast.

It was only later, when moonlight formed silver pools in the hard earth, and Tem's body was lying beside the firepit, close to the others but set apart, that Raif suddenly stopped in his tracks. "We never found Mace Blackhail," he said.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 29 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 29 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2001

    J.V.Jones is a wonderful discovery for anyone who loves fantasy!

    A Cavern of Black Ice is unlike any other fanstasy I have ever read. It is brilliantly written, refreshing change from the standard 'magical takeoff on the middle ages' story line. She does this with all of her stories. Jones takes the characters of this story and artfully brings them to life in such a way that you truly feel that you know them. The day that I discovered ALL of the books by Jones was a great day indeed. I had been restricted to total bedrest the the last three months of my last pregnancy. I devoured every book of hers that I could get my hands on and finished all of them in just a couple of months. I was so dissappointed when I came to the end of all the books that are in print. My only problem is that all of her devoted fans are impatiently awaiting the release of 'A Fortress of Grey Ice' the sequel. WHERE IS IT ??!! Does anyone know when It will finally be released? I highly recommend this book and all the others by Jones, especially 'The Bakers Boy' If you like fantasy, you will be glad that you bought this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2001

    Well Done!

    I find that I really like this book. I am an avid fantasy reader. I like almost all fantasy. I found that I really liked the The Book of Words series. I thought that the intrigue was amazing. She slipped in the Barbed Coil. I read about half and it never grabbed me. I kept putting it down and reading another book. I thought she might be a one hit wonder writer, but i gave her another chance with this one and I am glad that I did. It is definitely more mature. Mrs. Jones is definitely coming into her own and I am waiting for the next one. Keep it up Jones.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2014

    Great fantasy

    Gripping tale, dishonor, magic, and the fate of tje world

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2013

    Am left without words...

    Thank goodness JV Vance wasnt. A lifetime ago I read the first two books in this..waiting with bated breath for the third in this series. I am a vociferous reader and often stories and sort of all blend together, not so with tales of the black and grey caverns. I cannot afford my reading habit , so I utilize the public library system to satisfy my endless needs. The next in the series never showed up despiite queries . JV's name and never faded as somany do

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2012

    Yes

    Yes

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2012

    Good

    Well written with excellent character and plot development. Almost impossible to put down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2002

    This started my fantasy collection

    I ordered this at the beginning of 7th grade, realizing it was a biggest book I've ever seen when it came in the mail. The first few pages got me hooked. The characters are awesome and you can't help but skip pages every once in a while to know what happens next... I did get the sequel, and it's even better than this (haven't finished it yet either)... for all of you waiting, it's out in the UK, email me if you want a link to buy ;D (from a trusted bookstore, not myself!) Although it shouldn't be too hard to find by your lonesome.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2001

    What have you done for me lately?

    Great book! Not the average tame and gentle little fairy tale. I would recommend this to pretty much anyone EXCEPT those who would want to read part 2 anytime soon.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2001

    A MASTERPIECE FOR ALL TIMES

    WHAT CAN ONE SAY BUT READ IT! IT IS CAPTIVATING ALL THE WAY TILL THE VERY END. ROMANCE AND FANTASY HAVE NEVER MIXED SO WELL AS WHEN J V JONES CAST HER MAGIC ON A PIECE OF PAPER.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2001

    I just want to read more!

    I read a ton of books, and this has got to be one of my all time favorites!!!! When I started the book i got so sucked into it, that when i was done...I was really dissapointed! It's one of those books that you cant put down until the last page is read, and you just want to read more of it! I cant wait till the sequal comes out(A Fortress of Grey Ice)!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2001

    One of the best books i've ever read

    i love this book, very cleverly written, one of the only things that makes a fantasy book stand out, as most parts of plots are similar.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2000

    Captivating

    I believe that this is one of the best books of all time. I couldn't put it down. It's filled with advernture, magic, destiny, love, death, courage, and truth! A young boy named Raif follows the path to becoming a man while following his heart. He struggles to change his destiny and his place in life. Ash, a young lady troubled by nightmares of black ice struggles to free herself of eternal demons that haunt her. *FOLLOW THE PATHS OF THOSE WHO WISH TO CHANGE THEIR LIVES!*

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2000

    A Great Find

    A Cavern of Black Ice is indeed a pleasant suprise. Though the length of this book might be intimidating, it stays interesting and intriguing throughout. Jones does a great job of bringing together the main characters, and making you sympathetic towards the obstacles that they are faced with. The book has similarities with Goodkind and Martin, and therefore hooked me right away.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2000

    Better than the Book of Words

    While Jones' previous trilogy, the Book of Words, was what first drew me to her as an outstanding fantasy author, this first book in the Sword of Shadows saga is more to my liking. It can slighty confuse the reader at first as the scene is being set, and one may need to read the novel more than once to understand all the references and 'hints', but it ruthlessly grips your attention until I couldn't even set it down. I especially liked the concepts of the Black Cavern itself, the Sull, the code of honor and the rituals such as the guidestone which the clans live by, and the story's various links to the world of Jack, the baker's boy. A colorful, exciting story of sorcery, ancient cultures, and unseen threats that one needs to read to believe. I found that Jones' first attempt at a trilogy was a little rough around the edges and in some cases a little too extreme. However, the style of the Sword of Shadows #1 is eye catching and intriging while mellowed down into a tale of intense action, unforeseen mysteries, turns, and twists, and undying love and dedication. My hat is off to the author: another masterpiece. You finish the novel to find yourself gasping for breath and wanting more. Can't wait for the next shade of ice!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2000

    Good reading

    This book is really good. It's a little slow in the begining, and I kept wondering how J.V. Jones was going to stretch this out into three books. It's not the best book I've ever read. The ending is anticlimatic, and the cliffhangers she leaves at the end of the book are more like she just stopped in part of the story. Still, I like it a lot, and I can't wait to read the next book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2000

    A great book

    J.V. Jones is being added to my list of favorite authers. Great characters really make this book stand out. This promises to be the start of a really great epic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2000

    Great fantasy writing. Top quality performance by J.V. Jones

    I loved the way Jones developes her characters and pulls you into the story. Raif and Ash are strong characters, but still shown signs of vulnerability. I can definitely see how everyone can 'hate' Mace Blackhail. I am eagerly awaiting A Fortress of Grey Ice, volume 2 in this trilogy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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