I. Local bookstore for a new book
I am confronted with an enormous set of two-sided shelves as tall as I am, and as long as a fair-sized bedroom. These shelves are crammed with glossy paperbacks, each with its own colorful cover artwork and a terse two-paragraph blurb on its backside. Choosing a quality book in this manner is akin to choosing a vacation spot by closing your eyes and blindly pointing to a map - maybe you'll finger Cancun, but you're more likely to choose the Sahara.
So to aid my decisions in book shopping, I often use a more reliable method - I shop for authors. If I've read a book and enjoyed it, naturally I'll go back to the same author in search of more goodies, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. A good author may write books in many different styles, or even genres, but there is always some consistency, and one can't help but compare and contrast a new work with others that have been written before. In short, in this review I make some comparisons between this book and the books of your first trilogy. I can't help myself, so I hope you'll forgive me.
II. First Impressions
Despite its length, I read A Cavern of Black Ice in two days. After the first chapter (in which the character unexpectedly died), each main character was introduced quickly and efficiently, and their situations were swiftly made plain. The story's events began to unfold around each character in a very gradual, yet horrifying way. This compelled me to read more quickly - I was impatient for the moment when the separate plot lines would begin to merge. By the time Angus Look fortuitously appeared and took Raif Sevrance away with him in Chapter 16, I had finally become totally engrossed in the story.
When Angus and Raif cross paths with Marafice Eye and Ash outside of Spire Vanis, the feeling of Destiny at work is strong. Their subsequent escape from the city, and the pursuit that followed, were gripping and fast paced. The heroes' eventual goal had become obvious, and yet the path to the cavern of dark ice seemed suddenly unpredictable. In particular, the disappearance of Angus later in the book was unexpected. Overall, the main storyline held my interest right up until the last page.
III. Lay of the Land
In the Book of Words Trilogy, the physical descriptions of each city and its occupants gave each locale a unique flavor, but the forests and lands in between made little lasting impression in my memory. This wasn't the case with Cavern. Your descriptions of the weather, the forbidding landscape, and in particular the lands surrounding the clanholds were excellent and vivid, yet not overly done. I enjoy reading a book like this one in winter, where I am safely tucked indoors under a warm blanket. The fortress city of Spire Vanis also lives up to expectations, and it's as easily viewed in the mind's eye as my home town.
The way you describe the workings and "physics" of magic in your books has always fascinated me, and this book is no exception. Magical abilities and drawings have an air of credibility I haven't seen anywhere else, except for some of Piers Anthony's books (i.e. On a Pale Horse).
The variety of interesting and believable characters, which was a strong suit in the Book of Words trilogy, are all that I've come to expect. In particular, your antagonists (Penthero Iss, Marafice Eye, Sarga Veys, and Mace Blackhail) transcend the traditional "evil villains" of most fantasy works. With the exception of Mace Blackhail, we get a clear insight into the motivations of each one. As for Mace Blackhail, I don't think I've ever felt actual hatred for a fictional villain before now, not even Baralis or Kylock. You could feel pity for Kylock because he was a pawn from his conception, and was driven mad by his own father's poisons. And Baralis, at least, displayed some spark of fondness for his loyal servant Crope. Mace Blackhail's air of malicious evil is only enhanced by the lack of his perspective in the book.
The protagonists of this book aren't immediately likable; early on I noticed annoying aspects of their character. Yet they are more realistic for these flaws, and in the long run the story is more enjoyable for it. Angus is overly-secretive and patronizing. Raif is a bit lacking in the judgment department, and is maddeningly poor at communicating with others. Ash March's lack of backbone contributes to her powerlessness, at least until she finally works up the nerve to run away. Effie's afraid of everything, and her state of denial about her lore is understandable, but makes everything worse. In the end I ended up rooting for Raif, Ash, and Effie anyway, despite their flaws, and even began to like them a little.
I particularly enjoy the rich details and color you bestowed even to the supporting characters: Raina Blackhail, Vaylo Bludd, Magdalena Crouch, Drey Sevrance, and Katia, to name just a few.
I'm Through Typing Now
Overall I enjoyed reading A Cavern of Black Ice immensely, and I am eager to read the next book in the series (though I shan't be greedy and ask for another galley copy - maybe I should give someone else a chance ;-) ). You are gifted at making both the world and its people come to life in the reader's mind. Keep up the good work!