TSR Dragon Magazine, September 1995

It's hard to know how to react when authors ply reviewers with food, like the shrink-wrapped slice of bread that arrived in the mail with "The Baker's Boy." When a fellow recipient reported having eaten her slice, another critic promptly remarked, " Thus J.V.Jones's murderous campaign against reviewers claims another victim." At last report, however, all three of us where alive and well, and in any event such a campaign ought not to be necessary. Jones's first novel in a planned trilogy is easily as quirky and intriguing as her promotional material.

For one thing, although Jones has several plots running at once, only about half of them actually converge by volume's end. Among these threads are: title character Jack's ongoing attempts to escape the designs of Baralis, master poisoner and would-be ruler of the Four Kingdoms; young noblewoman Melliandra's flight from an unwanted marriage to Kylock, heir to the thrown and secretly Baralis son; wandering knight Tawl's search for the key to an obscure, ill-remembered prophecy; and the wily archbishop of Rorn's quiet bid to expend his won influence at the expense of knights, heirs, and nobility alike.

Jones's narrative leaps from subplot to subplot with brisk efficiency, sometimes to the point of seeming choppy. But it gradually becomes clear that there is a pattern developing, although it is far from clear just what the pattern may be. part of it is political - Baralis' grand plans for the Four Kingdoms are at odds for what the archbishop of distant Rorn hopes to accomplish, and his ruthless tactics are beginning to rebound against him. Another part is mystical - Jack and Kylock , born at the same instant, have intertwined fates, but only the prophecy's long-dead author and the strange seers of Larn seem to know just what that connection may hold. But the overall design is elusive, and we are left to suspect that a whole layer of revelation is yet to be unveiled.

What helps make Jones's narrative distinctive, despite its epic sweep and grand design, the style is direct and approachable. Where others write about confrontations between shadowy, abstract powers of light and dark, Jones is chronicling encounters between very human adversaries. And she retains a sense of slightly earthy humor that also helps keep the tale from getting to high-flown.

The novels other great innovation is both understated and striking. As noted earlier, there's an ancient prophecy whose meaning cuts to the heart of Jones's tale - but unlike most verses in fantasy, which are miraculously remembered verbatim, for hundreds or thousands of years, this one has suffered the ravages of real world history. Very few people, according to the old sage Bevlin remember the prophecy's original text, and indeed, the version the archbishop knows is clearly several translations removed from authenticity. This is a clever, perceptive touch that shows Jones to be far subtler and more devious than the novel's unaffected style might otherwise suggest.

"The Baker's Boy" has most of the qualities of a highly successful popular fantasy epic - it's a fat volume with a substantial cast and a vivid, colorful, landscape. But between its sense of sly wit and its focus on character rather than concept, it's a remarkably readable epic that doesn't need twenty page appendixes and glossaries to enable readers to keep up with the story.

JVJ Menu Panel