Baker's Boy
J.V. Jones
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Get *The Baker's Boy* delivered to your door! The Baker's Boy
J.V. Jones
Aspect/Warner Books
Copyright 1995
552 pages
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

The Baker's Boy, the first installment in "The Book of Words" saga, contains all the earmarks of the beginning of a modern fantasy epic: hidden identities, dying kings, evil sorcerers, cryptically wise hermits, comings-of-age, prophecies of old coming to pass. Newcomer J.V. Jones manages to weave an intricate tale of intrigue and conspiracy that should satisfy even the most jaded reader of traditional fantasy. For a fantasy novel to work really well, it must be richly layered, with rounded characters acting on many different levels to reach apparently disparate goals that will in fact converge like a mystery's resolution upon the story's climax. We see the beginnings of this kind of layering in the first volume of "The Book of Words."

A hermit who suspects that dire prophecy is come to pass sets a young and determined knight upon a nearly impossible quest -- to look for a boy 12 years of age, a boy who seems somehow set apart from the norm. Where the knight Tawl will find the boy or in what circumstances the hermit Bevlin cannot say, only that the fate of the entire world hangs on this boy named in the ancient prophecy of the Book of Words.

Jack, the title character, toils in the kitchens of Castle Harvell as the head baker's apprentice. Having never known his father, and having lost his mother young, Jack has no one to protect him from his merciless master. When the king's chancellor Baralis decides he needs a "blind" scribe (someone who cannot read but has a good hand at drawing what he sees) to copy the volumes of a borrowed library, Jack becomes servant to two masters. His life as the orphaned son of a foreign whore loved by none moves on under these two men, one whose wielded power is not only political but magical, until an unconscious act of self-preservation reveals Jack to be something much more than he appears. Baralis senses Jack's unintended burst of supernatural power, and Jack flees Castle Harvell and the only life he has ever known.

Melliandra is the young (and only) daughter of the most powerful lord in the Four Kingdoms, the scheming, ambitious Lord Maybor. As a child, Melli waits impatiently for the day that she might be recognized as a Lady, with all the pomp and grandeur adulthood in the royal court implies. But as the king lies slowly dying from wounds taken in a traitorous hunting "accident," his queen tries to gather strength to her son Kylock and solidity to his claim to the throne. She forges an alliance with Maybor, and Maybor agrees happily to the betrothal of his daughter to the heir to the throne of the Four Kingdoms. Melliandra is repulsed by Kylock and his sinister mien, and suddenly adulthood in the court ceases to look so attractive to her. She runs from Castle Harvell and her unwilling betrothal, and that is when her life and Jack's touch for the first time.

Scheming, double-crossing high lords, avaricious and gluttonous churchmen, tortured seers, bawds and brawlers -- the cast of The Baker's Boy is as sprawling and varied as Chaucer's Canterbury pilgrims, and original as anything that's come out of the traditional fantasy genre in recent years. The only thing I found lacking in The Baker's Boy was an occasional period or semi-colon to correctly break up independent phrases; the grammarian in me is a nitpicker. A few punctuation errors aside, this novel makes a strong opening statement for the series that "The Book of Words" will become. J.V. Jones got lucky with her first novel; an editor at Warner/Aspect needing to bulk up the title list there found her manuscript in the slush pile. It's possible, though, just possible that editor got lucky as well, for J.V. Jones looks like a talent to watch.

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