The "Baker's Boy" is a fantasy, a Middle Ages type of book, with lots of sword-n-sorcery, just the sort of thing I haven't liked since junior high. I love a nice, thick meaty book (the book is 500 some pages), but I was concerned that I wouldn't warm up to the topic. "I'll hate it," I thought.
As I started reading, I didn't change my mind. I really don't care for this genre anymore. It was a romantic phase I went through years ago, and now I mostly don't like it.
But the characters sucked me in. even though there are some thoroughly despicable characters in the book, and not enough sympathetic characters (I prefer books where I can identify with the characters), all the characters are so well drawn that I needed to know what was going to happen to them.
"The Baker's Boy" is the first of a trilogy (aren't they all these days?) called "The Book of Words." The trouble with most trilogies is the first two books don't have a satisfactory ending. They often just stop, leaving the reader hanging until the next installment. Once again, this book disappointed me by not wrapping up enough of the story at the end, but also again, I couldn't really get mad because it's all so well done. Besides, with this length I knew it couldn't go on any longer.
It's the story of Jack, the baker's apprentice, who appears to be a likable but somewhat dull boy living a dull life in a medieval-type castle until the day he burns the bread and somehow uses magic to undo the damage to the loaves. This brings him to the attention of the castle's evil sorcerer Baralis. Meanwhile, Melliandra, daughter of Lord Maybor (Baralis' rival), is protesting a marriage to Prince Kylock, the Queen's son (who is also the son of Baralis by sorcery explained earlier in the book).
The two young people escape and end up traveling together. There's also a young knight on a quest who just happens to be searching for Jack (which we know but the characters don't). A lot of separate but related story lines keep us jumping. And keep us reading.
I finished the book in just three days. I'm a fast reader, but that's quick even for me. There's not a slow spot in the whole book, yet it's not one of those that leaves you breathless because a lesser writer mistakes lots of movement for action.
This book is one of those rare success stories every writer strives for. Warner Aspect editor-in-chief Betsy Mitchell found it in what is called the slush pile. That's the huge mound of unsolicited manuscripts every publisher has on her desk. Writers who send in their Great American Novels without an agent end up there. It's a kind of Bermuda Triangle of the publishing business, because so many manuscripts disappear here.
Many of the manuscripts are awful. They're so bad they inspire awe. Some are practically written in crayon on lined notebook paper. But a book like this is what keeps every editor plowing through this pile of recyclable materiel. Mitchell found this first novel by a young Englishwoman who now lives in San Diego, and could see its promise, even though there were many problems. But that's what an editor is for. She worked with Julie Jones to whip the manuscript into place.
Now I'm sitting here trying to dissect what was so good about this book. "It's well-written," I think. Yeah, but what exactly does that mean? Julie Jones draws her characters so well that I care what happens to them, even if I wouldn't actually care about them as people if they were in my life. But I can't pinpoint the magic of the book.
I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment, "A Man Betrayed" which is due out next spring, almost as much as I'm waiting for the next set of Star Wars movies, which George Lucas is beginning to work on. I'll just sit here with my Han Solo doll and my stuffed Chewbacca the Wookiee and wait.