A Cavern of Black Ice by J.V. Jones was a hard read for me, but I made it all the way to the end. I should warn you that there is no resolution whatsoever; it’s one of those series books that simply stops, rather than providing a self-contained story. According to the Internets, there are four more books planned, but only two have been released.
It’s a low fantasy in the vein of Conan, meaning the world is dark and horrifying and Celtic and Norse and mountainous and snowy and the most advanced technology is the bow, fire, and horses. There is magic, but it’s demonic and unnatural.
What I liked was the tremendous attention to detail in the characterization and descriptions. The author brought attention to little things here and there that really pulled you into the world. The characters were complex, and grew and evolved over the course of the book, both good guys and bad guys. The writing was what I might call “heavy,” in that it had the feel of an aged, rough-voiced narrator telling a story of the ages. (As opposed to, say, something more frivolous.)
Unfortunately I thought the plot pacing suffered quite a bit for the detail. It was a little like Robert Jordan in that the author spent so much time on details that it took quite a while to move the story forward. I found myself skimming now and then when I wanted to get things moving.
The other problem was that it took a long time to get to a point where I felt like the story started. I felt like I was reading back story until roughly the point where Raif and Angus met up with Ash at the gate, which was well into the book. I want to say a third of the way through. Raif’s back story was not enough to keep me reading, but Ash was interesting enough that I wanted to see what happened to her. There were other plot elements and characters that were clearly setup for things in successive books and had little or no relevance to the first book.
For me as a writer, this book was a great example of low fantasy, and a great example of “going too far” on the details. A lot of people probably enjoy that, but I don’t think it’s in my writing wheelhouse. Certainly not for a rookie.