J.V. Jones – Watcher Of The Dead

Watcher Of The Dead (2010) is the fourth book of Sword Of Shadows by J.V. Jones. As this is my first review for this series I will need to give some introduction to the series. The series plays in the same world as Jones’ Book Of Words trilogy, although in a neighboring part of that one’s setting. Jones started this series in 1999 and has needed at least three years per book to be published, which is slow pace. Of course we have been somewhat spoiled by some authors who’ve managed to produce heavy tomes every year and even write more besides that.

Sword Of Shadows takes place in a northern region of the world. A harsh place with harsh inhabitants. Four main groups can be defined. The civilized cities, the primitive clans, the hidden people and the unbound. With the unbound I mean a various number of smaller groups who are independent and can traverse more freely between the other groups. Even the three main groups are split up into smaller groups, creating a diverse society with complex relationships. To give the reader a grasp of all these groups and number of characters are followed and their viewpoints told. Jones’ gives plenty of detail, but no more than necessary.

There is no clear black and white in Jones’ world. It is a composition of various shades of gray. Some seem more evil, other more good, but it remains ambiguous what it really is. In that sense it resembles A Song Of Ice And Fire by George R. R. Martin. The magic remains mysterious and somewhat down to earth. A difference is that the scale is somewhat smaller and Sword Of Shadows doesn’t have that heroic or dramatic feeling which would create the epic feeling. However, Sword Of Shadows certainly is an epic fantasy, because it is rich in detail, characters and cultures and the way these all intertwine and affect each other.

Jones’ characterization is strong. A varied range of characters are followed and each of them has a clear identity. Jones brings this in a natural way, through their thoughts and actions, without being forceful. This makes Swords Of Shadows a character-driven story, more than events.

This attention to character also causes one of the weaknesses in Jones’ storytelling, because as she puts more effort into it, less actual story happens. This does not weaken the storytelling itself as it is well done and the reading experience is good, but at the end of the book, when one reflects back on events, one realizes how little has happened. This was very much the cases for Watcher Of The Dead. Some characters get little time to shine, maybe a few chapters, and with so many characters followed (I counted eight), that means that most of them get little attention, although each chapter of attention is intense. Jones did manage to give and complete for each of them a sort of mini-story, but looking back it is all very meager. I would have preferred a few hundred pages more so everyone gets there piece equally. Of course within a time-line it can happen that not much happens for a certain character, but the elapsed time also seems skewed. For some only some days, maybe a couple of weeks seem to pass, while others get a few months. This skewness I also noted in the previous book, A Sword From Red Ice, and here I noted it again. This does make me wonder and I would like to have some time-line overview to place events in a better way.

Even though I spend quite some words on these minor points, Watcher Of The Dead does remain a great read, with strong characterization, a thrilling story and a gloomy intensity. My only disappointment is that I got so little after three years waiting. I hoped for more and now I have to wait for the next book. Saying that, I expect this series to have at least two or three more books to reach the end, especially with the current pace. Another full recommendation.

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