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The Baker's Boy
The Baker's Boy - J.V. Jones
Member Name: historywitch
The Baker's Boy - J.V. Jones
Advantages: It has a plot and some action. Story is ok.
Disadvantages: Fragmented story, stiff dialogue, one dimensional characters
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)
Summary: Mediocre fantasy