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After being recommended this series some time ago by someone who knows I enjoy Robin Hobb and George.R.R.Martin, I finally got around to starting it this week whilst I was on a weeks holiday from work. While The Baker's Boy, the first part of The Book Of Words trilogy, takes a few chapters to properly get started, I can easily see why it was recommended to me as this first installment has all the hall-markings of being a classic high-fantasy series.
Jack is a humble baker's boy, orphaned at an early age with no memories of his father and only the haziest recollection of his mother. Assigned to scribe in his spare time for King's Counsellor, Baralis, he begins to come to a new awareness that flows to the surface one morning when he falls asleep at the oven and burns some loaves. In an instant of wishing that there was something he could do to rescue the bread and knowing the cruel court baker is likely to beat him for his costly mistake, Jack collapses and when he reawakens, the loaves are miracously fine. Knowing some kind of sorcery is at work and knowing that people of The Four Kingdoms are less than forgiving over the use of magick, Jack decides to flee the castle and make a new life. It is not long after he makes this decision that he stumbles across the maiden, Mellisandra.
Mellisandra is the daughter of a high-ranking court official, Lord Maybor, and is making her own escape because she is due to be bethrothed to the Queen's son, Priunce Kylock. This would be a worthy match except Kylock has a mean streak, there is something very sinister about him and besides Mellisandra is in no rush to be married. Maybor sends men after his wayward daughter to pursue her and bring her back to her obligation but King's Counsellor has his own motives for preventing that from happening. War has broken out between The Four Kingdoms and a neighbouring state, the King lies delirious and feverish in the sick bed he has inhabited for the past five years and Baralis has his hand in more of those events than anyone including the Queen actually realise. He sees both Jack and Melli as a threat to his plans but he is not the only political figure trying to control events and other forces are at work......
This first book has been criticised for the way it swaps perspectives and follows several different character's paths at once but this is a style also favoured by George.R.R.Martin to much success and I think it works equally as well here as it does in his Game Of Thrones series. The tension is cleverly broken between chapters and events by the sly observations between two of the royal guards and this also works. Plenty of questions are left unanswered though and whilst there is no cliffhanger ending as such, the book ends with the reader feeling very keen as to what might happen next. There is a real sense of Fate directing the characters all towards one path without anyone of them either realising it or being able to control it. There also a strong feeling that there is much more going on here than at first meets the eye and that although the reader has a much wider idea of what is happening in this world, there is plenty to discover in the further installments.
For me, once I got past the first four chapters, this book was unputdownable and really sucked me in. The style of writing takes very little to get used to and soon flows across the page and whilst J.V.Jones is not as good as Hobb, she is every bit as good as George.R.R.Martin!!
I am not a big fan of chick lit and light weight novels, but there are often times when I am too tired to concentrate on anything weighty and at those times I return to fantasy; the genre that really got me hooked on reading as a child/teen. A friend who knows that I love the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy and the Green Rider series suggested this one, the first book in the Book of Words Trilogy (the others are A Man Betrayed and Master and Fool). These are heavy looking books of 500-700 pages and I was looking forward to immersing myself in fantasy world for a few days.
Jack is the eponymous hero, a baker's apprentice working in Castle Harvell in the Four Kingdoms, a medieval-style land surrounded by other hostile lands. The king is disabled and Queen Arinalda has been left to oversee the running of the country and court. Their son, Prince Kylock, a darkly unpleasant character, is heavily under the thrall of the evil chancellor and sorcerer Baralis, who has worked his way up to his position of power through intrigue and poisoning his rivals. His main rival is Lord Maybor, a hard drinking, womanising brute of a man who has ambitions to marry his daughter Melliandra to Kylock. Melliandra has other ideas and runs away, followed by Jack who is hiding a deadly power and a mystery about his past. Meanwhile a knight is set a mission to search for the boy mentioned in an age-old prophecy, hampered by the gluttonous and thoroughly unpleasant archbishop of Rorn.
This book began with a rape, which for me is never a good way to start a story. Some things are mercifully left to the imagination, but there is still more actual description than I was comfortable with to be honest and than I think there needed to be. I was tempted to put the book down at this point, but as I had actually got all three books in my possession I decided to give it another chance. I finished the book relatively quickly after this less than positive start and was vaguely interested enough to start book 2 (which is going much more slowly but that's another review entirely!). However I did feel there were several aspects of this book which hampered my enjoyment, purely on a personal level.
The first of these was the story's similarities to the basic threads of the Tad Williams trilogy I have already mentioned. In fact when I was writing the synopsis of this book I repeatedly wrote Simon instead of Jack when describing the main character. Jack/Simon are both orphans with secrets, both working in the kitchens of a castle where an evil influence lurks and controls the royals. Simon/Jack both escape from the castle at the same time as feisty women who are trying to flee a forced marriage (the name of the princess is Miriamele which I found too close to Melliandra). They flee through the woods, fight off danger and both go on journeys of self-discovery. Because I am such a fan of Williams, I found it very difficult to adjust to this and to see the book's own merits, especially as I found Baker's Boy to have a much weaker world/society construction. Williams invented new languages and expertly crafted the different inhabitants of her lands, whereas I found Jones's world to be more one-dimensional, with little description of the different languages and cultural differences.
This would have been more acceptable if the story had been active and easy to read, pulling the reader along and not allowing them to dwell on any deficiencies. The Green Rider series works very much in this way, I finished the last one in just one evening, so desperate was I to find out what happened next. However, the story within the Baker's Boy is desperately fragmented thanks to the storytelling device used by Jones. This intermingles each story so every few pages you change focus, character and often city with just a paragraph space as warning. Just as I was getting into the story we would be flicked away to follow the adventures of somebody else and I would have to stop and try and remember what happened the last time the focus was on that character. Overall I found this very tiring, especially as a great deal of the 'action' is to do with political intrigue which really required me to concentrate to remember who wanted to do what to who and why. One of the only ways I could remember what was happening was through the repeated themes associated with each character; Baralis was always complaining about his scarred hands, Maybor was thinking about clothes/women/drink/revenge, Tavalisk was eating and tormenting his aide and Jack was wallowing in guilt/angst. Everytime one of the characters appeared they were described in these terms which got very flat, very quickly and I always think is the sign of a lazy author.
Conversations between two low ranking guards were thrown in here and there for comic/crude/light relief, further fragmenting the story and often appearing, strangely, after moments of high drama thus diluting any tension which had been built up. It was as if Jones wanted to write a comic fantasy and a run of the mill fantasy but didn't have enough to do either so combined them. They are mildly amusing, sure, but not worth including in my opinion. Sadly some of the descriptive terms and language used by Jones were not so amusing; odd turns of phrase that distracted my attention from the story e.g. 'a foamy puddle a wrist deep', well how deep is a wrist, where would you measure it from and how would you get your hand in to measure it? Dialogue between the characters was also distinctly mediocre; I would have loved to have seen some great confrontations between Baralis and Maybor which just didn't materialise and there was little that actually did stand out.
Jones is very fond of having lots of characters with terrible or shocking secrets and is also fond of not revealing them quickly. After all the hinting and hidden clues, when I actually discovered what these terrible and mysterious things were, they were often not worthy of all the secrecy and excitement that had been built up around them. They did get me further through the book though, even when I was left continually frustrated by yet another fragment which seemed to be on the verge of explaining a characters motivation before moving on again. As most of these secrets revolved around the character's mother it was also difficult to separate the stories in my head and thus have any sympathy at all for their sufferings.
Having been pretty negative about this book I should add that the character of Baralis was quite well drawn, creepy and unpredictable. I got a little twist in my stomach whenever he appeared and he was a good villain of the piece. The story itself does have potential and every now and then I was drawn into the story; sadly for only two or three pages before the focus changed again and the story moved on. But ultimately it was just a run of the mill fantasy, worth checking out if you are a fan of the genre. Having read it, I doubt I will read it again, life is too short for mediocre books.
Price: £7.99 (£5.99 on Amazon, £0.01 from Amazon Marketplace)
'The bakers boy' is another of those books involving a little lad with an unhappy life who finds out he is not what he thought. His servant mother has died and he is left to fend for himself ,fatherless and alone in a bustling castle where he becomes the bakers boy.
There is political intrigue in abundance .
The kings chamberlain Lord Barylis is a scheming ,evil wizard in a world where using magic is taboo.
I found his antics at times a little distrubing and would definitely not recommend this book to anyone under the age of 15.
This book touches on torture,murder,feminism and rape.
There are many well crafted characters in this book, woven within the story, you can follow their progress throughout the trilogy of books.
As often happens with fantasy books , though , the main characters lead charmed lives.
My son bought this book and when we had both read it ,I went out and bought the other 2 as we couldn't wait to discover what had become of everyone.
The other 2 books are 'Master and fool' and 'A man betrayed'
Firstly I am going to tell you I love big, thick, chunky books that you can really get your teeth into (metaphorically speaking of course!) This is one of those books. 552 pages jam packed with excitement. Surprisingly this book is about a bakers boy named Jack. Ok so that's not surprising but the fact that Jack isn?t your ordinary run of the mill bakers boy is. He runs away from his bakers life in castle Harvell and on his journey meets up with another fugitive called Melli who is running away form an arranged marriage. Individually and together these to get into many scrapes but the bond built in adversity keeps them together. Another traveller is a main character in this book; his name is Tawl and he is a knight of Valdis on a seemingly impossible mission. This mission send?s him to many places including the haunting island of Larn where he consults with the seers and Rorn where he meets up with a lad named Nabber who?s usual occupation is a pick pocket, but he decides to leave the big city behind and travel with the knight in hopes of some adventure. There are three other main and important characters that really are up to no good. Lord Baralis who is a master of the black arts plots his way through the whole book, manipulating people without them even realising it sometimes and spying on the occupants of Castle Harvell using the secret passages only he knows about. Secondly there is Lord Maybour who is just your average rich, pompous lord who pledges his daughter (Melli) to the Queens Son in marriage. This All backfires on him when his daughter does a runner on him. He then seeks out revenge on Lord Baralis whom he is certain has a hand in it all. Lastly there is Tavalisk who is the Archbishop of Rorn; he is a glutton and a man of sorcery himself. He spends his time co-ordinating his spies and keeping an eye on things, making them go his way. This book is an epic and it is only the first in a series of
three books. It is immensely well written however and keeps you turning each page with every plot twist and in depth character analysis you get deeper and deeper into this world of intrigue and corruption and slowly the plot reveals itself and you can begin to see the whole thing come together. I was hooked from the first page, let me give you an extract then maybe you?ll understand why ?The deed is done master?. Lusk barely had a second to notice the glint of the long-knife, and only a fraction of that to realise what it meant. Baralis sliced Lusk?s body open with one forceful but elegant stroke, cleaving from throat to groin. Baralis shuddered as the body fell to the floor with a dull thud...!? Apologies to those with a weak stomach but a book that starts like that, in my mind is going to be a book worth the reading. J.V Jones style of writing is very laid back and relaxed, nothing is rushed over, each character is brought to life in minute detail and the actually plot of this story takes a back seat. Some people will find this story meananders too much and doesn?t read like a classic fantasy story but I found it fascinated me from start to finish. I think you will enjoy this book if you are a person who likes their characters to be described to them in full and glorious Technicolor, but if you are looking for a high paced tale of chivalry and adventure maybe this one isn?t for you. I can?t wait to read the other two books in the series as this one leaves you on the edge; you want to read on. You cannot read this book in isolation it is part of a whole and does not end like story of its own. It is an on going tale of mystery and magic. Enjoy.
I came across this series when Waterstones was offering the complete trilogy for the price of two. The other books are A Man Betrayed and Master and Fool which I shall try to write opinions on later. The two main character are Jack, a lowly kitchen boy and Melliandre a lords daughter and fiance of the evil Prince Kylock. The two meet when Melli is escaping her marriage and Jack gets lost aside the castle. He has no idea who she is and helps her on her way. They both go off on their seperate adventures but both have repeated meetings throughout the books. Jack is later raised to scribe, but also finds he has magical powers which brings the attention of the even eviler Chancellor/Warlock Baralis who is also desperate to capture Melli as she knows that he killed King Lesketh to enable Kylock to grab the throne. Other characters are introduced throughout the book, there is the Archbishop Tavalisk, worried only about his position but an enemy of Baralis and eager to find out his secrets. The good Knight Tawl who has his own agenda but also becomes Mellis protecter. Nabber, the street urchin who is befriended by Tawl and joins him in his quests. And my absolute favourites Bodger and Grift, two castle guards, these two characters are an absolute inspiration, they have the best lines in the book. I'll give you a little bit of their usual dialogue. "No, Bodger, theres only one cure for the ghones and it aint soaking your privates in boiling water" "master Frallit swears its the only way, Grift" "Well theres little doubt that Master Frallit has need of a cure,Bodger, I'm pretty sure he hasnt tried boiling his privates though. If he had we'd be calling him Mistress Frallit by now" This is a brilliant book, you really get the feel for the characters, I do have one complaint though. I agree that writing a fantasy novel in a new and innovative way can be difficult as most of it has already be
en done, but as you read this book, you can make comparisons to many other characters in others books. For example, Jack as Belgarion, in Eddings books, Tawl as Mandorallan in the same, Melli as Annyara in Game of Thrones, Nabber is Jimmy the Hand from the Feist series. I'm sure other readers can identify more. But dont let this put you off, in itself its a brilliant read, particularly if you havent read any of the other books I've mentioned!
First in the 'Book of Words' series.