Thursday, 22 April 2010

Review on ‘Watcher of the Dead’ by J.V. Jones

There is something to be said about a series that spans over ten years and the gap between each book being over a year or so. Momentum can be lost. Expectations of what can happen to plot and characters brew and ferment over time.

I am a huge fan of J.V. Jones, purely based on my reading of the first book in the series, ‘A Cavern of Black Ice’. I tend to have an affinity with ‘firsts’ of any story narrative, i.e The Fellowship of the Ring, Season 1 of Smallville, original adaptions like ‘Infernal Affairs’ etc – the list goes on. There is something immediate and the potential is always brimming. If I am ‘there’ with the characters right at the beginning, they invade my mind space and imagination for quite awhile. When they start to drag out, then I feel that sense of loss when you know your old best friend just ain’t your friend no more, you grew apart. *shrug* It happens.

With the fourth book of the series, I have mixed feelings. Heck, I’ve had mixed feelings since ‘A Fortress of Grey Ice’ came out. I have a lot to say so I will do the brief version first:

1. Chapters with Raina and the character of Chella Gloyal. J. V. at her best – it gave me chills, it reminded me of the awesomeness that is the clans.  
2. Angus Lok and the bad-ass Phage, especially his tracking in Morning Star
3. Bram Cormac – he’s adorable.
4. Learning more about the Sull – not those mad ones that torture Raif.
5. Chapters with Vaylo Bludd – hell yes!
6. Characters actually acknowledged their connections with other characters!

1. The absence of Mace Blackhail, though this in part was made up somewhat by Yelma Scarpe. I miss his sheer villainy, it seemed odd he was just floating off somewhere in Bannen Field-      
2. Raif’s plummet and the sheer violence that surrounds him and how he’s treated. Could the man still be standing after all that?
3. Ash’s storyline moving at snail’s pace – again, for the third time – is she actually going to progress at all?
4. Effie and Chedd and Clan Gray dragging out.
5. General pacing issues.
6. Repetition of many, many things and accounts that felt overcooked.
7. Loss of gravitas in character exchanges. 

Ok, so the above list of dislikes sounds harsh. I admit, I am a fussy reader. I admit I have high expectations but that’s only in part due to the first book being the most amazing read ever. That’s a tough act to follow, I get it, but follow it must. In her online journal Jones says ‘The Watcher’ can stand on its own, that one needn’t read the others to appreciate it. I would like to advise against that, if I may. If you don’t read ‘A Cavern’ you are just missing out on the reason behind everything, the genesis to the bible as it were. ‘A Cavern’ is a book in its own right, I fear I cannot say the same for the others. Plus you miss out on reading about Drey Sevrance – some of the best chapters ever, you’d miss out on Raina’s amazing speech to the clansmen after the Oldwood incident, Sarga Veys (what happened to him?), you miss out on the awesomeness of major drama and superb dialogue. The other three books miss this same gripping drama. Sure there are moments that punch you in the gut, like Blackhail attacking Scarpe, Angus tracking Magdalena Crouch etc but everything happens as if moving through water. It’s too slow. There’s not the same propelling action. Even though the book is 3/5s the length of the others, it still plods desperately.

Another note, the dialogue is lacking. There is a little too much ‘telling’ in speaking exchanges, with Jones dropping in lines like ‘she understood what wasn’t being said’ (I paraphrase so it resembles little of what Jones does describe) or describing what the looks mean– I’m sure such an allusion has occurred more than a dozen times and I felt it leached the gravitas. Sorry, I adore Jones as a skilled and superior writer but there’s too much ‘mindspeak’ with the characters. I read ‘A Cavern’ when I was 14 (omg) but I’m feeling there’s too much of the same. Thoughts that characters have are repeated three times in the same paragraph and then repeated again in the next chapter where their POV is used. There’s always fascinating information to be had about each city, each place, each nook and cranny of this world and it does make the mind boggle a little. This world does breathe and have a heart beat.

One element that is always sure to be worth it is anything involving clan – Raina Blackhail, Vaylo Bludd etc. It’s brilliant, it’s legend. You know what you are going to get with Vaylo and Raina. The clans stand on their own in a way and though they have a part to play in the upcoming Endlord madness, they still operate independently. I wonder how Jones will bring all the elements together in the last book? That being said, all characters who were connected in book 1 or 2, seem to be far away from each other like a galaxy stretching out. Spatially they are far but also story wise – that there was acknowledgement of connections, i.e Ash being asked about Raif, Angus and Cant, the hint of hostages that Eye has (Drey? Yay!! Drey, hi Drey!), Mallin and Angus etc – it made something lift out of my chest because everyone has been operating in their own space and for there to be overlap, it was like the series was acknowledging its own elements for once! It went beyond characters just ‘remembering’, it gave meaning to events that folded out in book 1 and 2 – I was beginning to think some characters had forgotten those important occurrences! Also, maybe it's the environment but even those characters who are traveling with others, with other companions, there is a lack of 'closeness', with everyone holding back from one another, save Effie and Chedd of course. But everyone is frustratingly separate.

As I mentioned, Raina and Vaylo are solid. Also Angus Lok. (Jones always has kick ass names). Yet the characters I was gripped with – Raif and Ash are not the same. I don’t mean for them to ‘stay as they were’ in book 1 but I feel like they’re on the other pole now – Ash is a little bland and Raif is just so infested with bad luck and horror, it’s heart breaking. My vested interest in them has waned. It was going good for Raif’s first part, i.e. battling with acknowledging himself as wielder of Loss and Watcher, but then when he’s captured, it meant there was no choice, he was going to be broken in to it. Ok, fine that was the plot choice. The inevitability of how he would turn out was awful to read, like watching a dear one descend from you and you know you wouldn’t be able to pull them out. God, don’t I sound like I think these characters are real? I guess the series is so grave, there’s no room for you to hide from the horror and the cold and brutality. I know this is the point. Thank god for Bram Cormac, he reminds me of Raif in book 1 – potential! (see, there it is – beginning and potential, I loves that stuff :D)

Note to self –must re-read series books before reading the new one so I am up to speed with the ‘space’ the story surrounds you in. This may be the reason the review is rather harsh.


  1. I agree with your assessment of the book, although I'm not sure I could be as eloquent as you've been. It's my least favorite of the four (although I still loved it, read it twice as soon as I got it), and I think it was pacing that was the problem. The stuff with Raif was VERY brutal, but it also felt long and repetitive to me. I did like the Moonsnake stuff, but ultimately, that made what happened to the Sull captors predictable, something I've not found with the other books.

    The Dog Lord has always been my favorite character, and I was a bit disappointed with those chapters, although I loved the set-up on the last one.

    Raina's bits were my favorites, probably because the pace was quicker. Bram has definitely grown on me.

    Effie's stuff is okay, but I thought she couldn't swim? And I did NOT find that storyline entirely predictable. Perhaps I should have.

    All in all, much of the book felt like a placeholder to me in anticipation of a finale (one or two more books? not sure...). Which, in the context of the story as a whole (and I've read them all several time), doesn't bother me in the slightest. But a stand-alone book? It would be an injustice to Jones.

    Thanks for your blog review!

  2. Thanks Allison - my email is so ridiculous at notifying me when someone writes a comment.

    I am pretty much on board with everything you said and appreciate the time taken to read and give your thoughts. Here's hoping that Jones will pull out something awesome in the next (two?) books!

    Which one is your fave by the way? I am a worshipper of the first book as you probably worked out :D

    Do you have a blog or something I can follow of yours?

    Thanks again!

  3. Hey there! And I just read this...thanks for responding.

    Not sure which is my favorite book as I've kind of been taking this as a whole work. I do love the first one, but I think some of my favorite moments are in the third (Gasp! Very contrary to public opinion, I know). But I'm not sure I was into Marafice Eye being introduced as a PoV character, even though a lot of it worked and I can see that it was rather necessary to do that to track parts of the story.

    No, sigh, no blog--I just follow others that I find interesting. I'm part of the Sword of Shadows Facebook page, but I seem to be the most active one posting.

    I think Julie will pull off something great in the final book or two judging from Book of Words.

    Take care, happy blogging, cheers!

  4. Cool! I am actually on the FB page right now! It's hard getting activity going on pages!