A Man Betrayed
J.V. Jones
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A Man Betrayed

J.V. Jones
Warner Aspect
Copyright 1996
598 pages
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

J.V. Jones' second installment in "The Book of Words" trilogy picks up where The Baker's Boy left off, picking up some new characters, bringing familiar faces into sharper focus and giving the original main characters a chance to grow up, albeit painfully at times. A Man Betrayed shows signs of the author's growth as well, exploring motives a trifle more thoughtfully and taking character development to a deeper level.

At the story's opening, the baker's boy Jack and Lord Maybor's daughter Melliandra find themselves still on the run from the dark sorcerer and king's chancellor, Baralis. Holed up in a chicken coop during a winter storm, the runaways are somewhere in the enemy territory of Halcus. Melli silently acknowledges an attraction for Jack's maturing mind and body even as Jack forces himself to squelch any amorous feelings he has for this young woman born a class above his own. The two aren't left with much time to fight their feelings, for Halcus soldiers discover their hiding place while Jack is a stone's throw away from the coop. Jack's escape is effected by the smuggler Rovas, who brings the boy to his home. Rovas lives with a mysterious woman, apparently an exiled noblewoman from the Four Kingdoms, and her beautiful down-to-earth daughter. When the daughter, Tarissa, returns, she bears the hard news that Melli was killed by the scouting soldiers. Rovas wants the captain of the Halcus party dead for reneging on a smuggling deal, and Jack agrees to do the deed when Rovas tells him it was the very same captain who killed Melli. Jack falls in love with Tarissa, unwary of the betrayal and heartbreak that such a road leads to.

Melliandra is in fact very much alive although not necessarily well. The captain has sold her to a flesh trader, a man convinced that Melli's virginity and beauty will command a high price. Melli ends up in the court of Bren, procured for the Duke's pleasure. Determined not to disgrace her father, Melli pretends to be the bastard child of a different Four Kingdoms noble. What Melli doesn't know is that her father is in Bren, as is Baralis, to arrange a marriage between the Duke of Bren's daughter Catherine and Prince Kylock of the Four Kingdoms. Kylock's murder of the ailing king and his subsequent invasion of Halcus threaten to sidetrack the betrothal, but the Duke formulates a plan to block Kylock's ambitions to rule in the North as well as the South. He makes the fallen knight of Valdis, Tawl, the guardian of Melli's well-being, for she is a key element of his plan to secure his own assured dominance in the North.

The archbishop of Rorn schemes to bring about a schismatic war between the sundry powers of the Known Lands, doing his part to prevent the prophecy written in the Book of Words from coming to pass purely out of self-interest. Baralis seeks to make Kylock an emperor so that he might be the hidden hand of power. The Duke hopes to see himself a king in the North. The priests of the forbidden isle of Larn manipulate people toward their own unknowable ends. As intricate and deadly conspiracies tighten their web around Melli, Jack and Tawl, the three will become the threads of Fate's weaving and the players of Destiny's drama as an ancient prophecy unfolds and a world hangs in the balance.

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