What's good? I really liked some of the characters. The two brother tribesmen, Raif and Drey, are likeable stalwart clansmen.
Ash is terrific as the young girl tormented by too much magical power growing inside of her. Angus is great as the spy/frontiersman.
And some of the bad guys are truly excellent in their dastardly roles: Penthero Iss and Sarga Veys are diabolical as evil sorcerors.
Vaylo the Dog Lord, leader of the Bluddsmen clan is another fine villain.
Unfortunately, not all the characters are convincing. The evil swordsmen Mace Blackhail and Marafice the Knife
are supposed to be fearsome leaders, but in fact they are blundering fools. How many times does Marafice get bested by Ash, four?
Does he ever succeed at ANYTHING? Why doesn't Iss simply execute Marafic for incompetence? There has to be a point at which Marafice
pays the price for screwing every task he is assigned. Mace Blackhail is also completely unconvincing as the conniving usurper. Is everyone in the Blackhail
clan (including Raif and Drey) as dumb as a box of rocks? Blackhail's schemes are transparently wrong, his lies would crumple before the
slightest rebuttal, yet no one in the entire clan challenges him?
What else is good about this book? Jones has depicted an original world. It is a grim and icy world, full of
brutality and terror, and it is nicely drawn. This isn't a romance novel disguised as a fantasy story, the story here is
harsh. The world is full of ice and snow. Jones seems to have done a lot of research about how people live in arctic terrain, because
her characters seem fully adapted to their frigid environment. Jones has created a savage world that seems to have a real history,
populated with believable citizens and landscapes. I especially liked the Hollow River.
A Cavern of Black Ice has (mostly) good characters and a well drawn world, what's not to like? The problem
with this book is the plot. The story is riddled with coincidences and lucky events. An awful lot of very convenient
things happen to keep the story moving forward. The following paragraphs describe some of these flaws, so if you intend
to read the book, some of the story is revealed here, so stop reading now.
[PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD]
We are told that the clansmen fear and despise magic, that any clansmen who used magic would be branded a
witch and outcast from the clan. Yet the clansmen each carry their own magical lore, an amulet which guides them and gives
them aid. When the clans attack, they are aided by sorcery - yet this magical aid doesn't seem to upset the wielders -
though I wish someone would have explained why is it helpful to have broadswords that draw no blood when they strike?
Wouldn't the opposite sorcery be more useful - a broadsword that drew extra blood?
When Angus Lok turns east to visit his family, how does Penthero Iss know that is the reason for his
change of direction? Angus Lok is trying to evade the pursuit of the sept, wouldn't you expect him to take off in some
random directions? Yet Angus oddly decides that this is good time to visit the farm, and somehow Iss knows that because
he has changed direction, his reason must be to visit his home.
Hardest to believe is the fortuitous timing of Ash's and Angus' first encounter at the Vaingate. What a
coincidence that both happen to at that place at the same critical time. And despite that fact that neither has ever met,
Angus immediately recognizes the dirty beggar girl as a Reach, even though a Reach is born only once every 1000 years - so
how does Angus figure out that Ash is a Reach and thus she is so important?
How does Dry Bannock know it is Raif and Ash that he is ambushing when out on patrol? Rather than killing the party, he knows immediately who
everyone is, and so captures them instead. How does he know?
How does Drey know that Raif is captured? How does he know which prison cell he is in? Why doesn't
anyone bother to think about freeing Angus from his prison cell? Couldn't Drey have thought of a better escape plan
for Raif? Drey's party uses sorcery to help storm the prison, but earlier we learned that clansmen shun all sorcery!
Members of all the clans are shocked when they hear of the massacre of the Bludd women and children in the ambush,
and Raif faces consequences for his involvement. But why isn't there any backlash against Mace Blackhail, who organized the ambush,
and ordered all the deaths? Mace is still able to make treaties with other clans with impunity, his standing within
the clan isn't diminished in the slightest despite the fact that the deaths of the women and children were under his orders.
Why didn't Mace make the women and children hostages? In none of the other violent incidents in the book does anyone ever seem
to pause before slaying women and children.
What are the odds that a pack of hunting dogs, searching over a vast tundra, would find a slain raven (with an
important message tied to its leg) buried under several feet of snow?
Effie conviently overhears some very useful converstations by Mace.
How did a book with such a flawed plot get to be voted one of the
best books of 1999? This book is good enough that I might
read the next one in the trilogy, but there must have been some better books written in 1999.