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3.8 out of 5 stars43
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 11 December 2000
After having stumbled across "The Barbed Coil" the library I was hooked on J.V. Jones and ran off to get every book I could find by her. "The Baker's Boy" is the first book in a trillogy, and it just gets you going from the very first page. The characters are so real you feel like you know them. The bad guys are really bad and they've always got some obstacle for the good guys. 552 pages, and not one of them boring.
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on 19 August 2010
The Baker's Boy will never win any awards for originality, but neither will any other fantasy novel -- they're basically all Tess of the D'Urbervilles with more magic, and fewer sweating peasant girls. The parallels with The Belgariad, Assassin's Apprentice, The Dragonbone Chair, etc. are obvious, but unimportant.

What this book does have is plot, pace and humour. It's never boring and often amusing. The humour is genuine, and integrated into the narrative; not a bolt-on extra like the sardonic interchanges between characters slipped into the interstices of the plot as favoured by Eddings.

This, Ms. Jones achieves by some nice writing. Firstly, she hasn't gone for the "show, never tell" business -- when "tell" works better, she's happy to tell. Then there's the clever use of the castle guards, Bodger and Grift -- their ribald conversations are amusing, and necessary-but-boring parts of the story are quickly covered by an after-the-fact discussion between these two characters.

Tricks like introducing any section involving Tavalisk with a description of the meal he's just finished eating, and filling in Tawl's back-story bit-by-bit as the book progresses also add humour, tie the novel together, and add depth without becoming dull.

Although I'm no expert on the technicalities of writing, this book manages to feel extremely competently constructed, giving confidence that it's not going to disappoint later on. All the way through, I felt like Ms Jones knew where she was going. This is something that Robert Jordan, for example, never managed to achieve.
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on 29 October 1997
Julie Jones is a wonderful author. In the Baker's Boy, she has woven a web of great mystery and intrigue. She focuses not just on the plot lines themselves, but on character content and on making the characters "grow" emotionally. Jack, for instance, is widly afraid of his powers at the beginning of the novel. By the end, however, he seems to have at least come to terms with them and has accepted them. This book is one of my favorites, and the Book of Words is my favorite series. This is a wonderful book that no fantasy lover should miss!
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on 19 August 2001
This is the first volume in The Book of Words trilogy (followed by A Man Betrayed, and Master and Fool).
At Castle Harvell, Jack, a thirteen-year-old orphan, is the baker's boy. Since he doesn't know how to read, the mischevious king's chancellor and sorcerer Baralis employs him as a blind scribe to copy the precious books of Tavalisk the Archbishop of Rorn's library. After five years of hard work and little sleep, Jack has secretly learnt how to decipher the signs and dreams of adventures where he'll find out the truth about his origins.
In the meantime, Bevlin the wiseman enrolls Tawl, one of the famous Knights of Valdis, to go on a quest to find the young boy whom the Prophecy in Marod's Book of Words speaks of. Four years later, he'll find himself locked, bound and starved in a dark and damp cell, prisoner of the repugnant Tavalisk.
Simultaneously, Lord Maybor, the richest but also most ambitious lord of the Four Kingdoms, and Baralis have made arrangements to have the king wounded in a hunting party. As a result, a soon stalemated war with the neighbouring lands will assuredly keep the queen's mind occupied and let them scheme quietly to steady their positions. And as one of his moves, Lord Maybor wants his daughter Melliandra to be bethroted to the queen's son and heir, Prince Kylock. Finding out about what has been arranged without her consent, Melliandra runs away.
At the same time one afternoon, after oversleeping and letting some precious loaves of bread burn, out of sheer panic and still unaware of his powers, Jack performs a miracle and goes back in time. When he hears that Baralis, who can feel when sorcery has been performed, is coming to get him, he has to flee from the castle.
Although it is easy to guess that Jack, as well as Tawl, will have a great role to play in the story, this first volume focuses mainly on the numerous and intricate intrigues of the mighty. The book is well written, the pace fast and humourous when the tension needs relaxing, and there's plenty of wooing as well as a great deal of food to go round. I enjoyed it thoroughly!
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on 27 October 2002
I must say, that although this book was not quite meeting my expectations which I had before I read it, this was still quite an excellent book. Just simply put, I've read better. There was nothing wrong with this book, other than that the writing quality was not the greatest I've ever seen.
When I bought this book, I was expecting it to be much like J.V. Jones' Sword of Shadows series. I was hooked into those in the first chapter. The writing was amazing in A Cavern of Black Ice and A Fortress of Grey Ice, and they are some of my favorite books now. Well, those were written several years after The Baker's Boy, so I could guess that the writing wouldn't be as good.
Other than the quality of the writing, this is one excellent book. The characters are, like in other J.V. Jones books, very intricate and well created; they mature well throughout the book at appropriate times and places. There aren't any unreal changes to characters, and all changes only occur after some sort of key event.
The setting wasn't quite what I had expected. It's not quite as powerful an element as in Sword of Shadows, where the freezing northern wastelands play a constant part, which I had certainly hoped to see. To me, the setting is one of the most important parts of a story. I love to have a clear image of what all of the surroundings look like, how it feels, smells, and also how different weather effects the setting. One extreme example of this is the forest in which much of the book takes place; J.V. Jones didn't even describe what types of trees there were, leaving much of the setting to the imagination. In The Baker's Boy, I didn't get that clear image which I love to see, which certainly took away from the overall quality of the book.
The plot, however, was excellent and well planned out. There were plenty of shocking plot twists caused by constantly planning lords who are all attempting to gain power in the abscence of a king, who had been poisoned by an arrow in a hunting "accident." Two extremely powerful lords, Baralis (King's Chancelor), and Maybor (an extremely wealthy lord), both have plans to gain power, and both center around who Prince Kylock (the poisoned king's son) is to marry. These plans are all nearly destroyed as the baker's boy Jack realises a great power which he holds, and runs from the castle with the daughter of Lord Maybor, persued constantly by Baralis' men. The plot was intricate and extremely well planned out, so it's certainly one of the strongest points of the book.
This is certainly a good book. The writing is just about made up for by the characters and plot. I would recommend this to anyone who would like to read a good book, and the occasional plot twist, of course.
*Pleeeaaassse give me feedback!!!! Helpful or not?*
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on 20 January 2012
I read this book for the first time when I was 12, recently having finished Lord of the Rings and looking for another style of fantasy to immerse myself in. Of course, I loved it, the believable characters, the political intrigue, the (usually) subtle hints of magic, the understandable villain, the 'fate' concept which seemed all too new to me then!

I read it, and all her other books, many times (ah, the obsessions of youth), but, as the later Sword of Shadows books were coming out, I lost interest in the earlier trilogy.

After 12 years, going through a 'reminiscent fantasy phase', after hating a well-acclaimed Trudi Canavan book (she is terrible!), I started re-reading them again, partly to see whether they were as intriguing as I remembered them, or just immature and teen- focussed like Trudi Canavan. I was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoy them still!

I've seen some reviews criticising the writing. The writing style is so simple, mostly very short sentences, but works with an almost 'stream of conscience', meandering style. This would be refined in her later books, but still manages to charm here.

I'd recommend this for anyone getting into fantasy, especially younger readers wanting something more 'adult' but not ready for something too bogged down with description. Fans of Sword of Shadows (which I would argue is absolutely amazing) who haven't read this may be put off to start with, but there is still much to appreciate. Also, as the writing style is so easy to read, it only takes a couple of days to finish each book. So go for it!
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on 6 January 1999
This was one book I never became bored with. The characters were fascinating and the story line was so smoothly written. Plot after plot between Maybor and Baralis was contained with anticipation to see who would kill whom first. I can't wait to read the rest of Jones' books. I love the style of her writing from page one of this book and I'm pleased that I have finally found another author who writes in a way that sends you into your own world.
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on 22 April 1997
The emotions of the heros' and the plotting of the villans makes this book one of the most spell-binding book since "The Lord of the Rings".
Full of action, regret, love, and hate,
J.V.Jones is soon to be (if not already) one of the best writers of fantasy today.
If you haven't read it yet, pick it up today and
do so!
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Conspiracies and treachery run deep at Castle Harvell. King Lesketh is dying of an illness, the Four Kingdoms are at war with the neighbouring land of Halcus and Chancellor Baralis is intriguing with the Knights of Valdis and the Duke of Bren. The other major powers of the continent, sensing a coming clash of nations, are arming for war. But such things are flying high over the head of Jack, a simple baker's apprentice who just wants to get on with his life. When Jack manifests powers that mark him as a sorcerer, he earns the enmity of Baralis. Fleeing into the wilderness along with Lady Melliandra, who is trying to escape a marriage to the sinister Prince Kylock, Jack has to come to grips with his powers and discover his role in the unfolding events.

The Baker's Boy, originally published in 1995, is the debut novel by British fantasy author J.V. Jones and the opening volume of the Book of Words trilogy (itself the opening three volumes of a longer fantasy epic continued in her current Sword of Shadows sequence). As a glance at the plot summary will reveal, we are deep in the heart of Traditional Fantasy Territory here. There's a young boy destined for great things. There's evil sorcerers conniving to bring about dark ends. There's cruel and unworthy heirs to thrones, and beautiful ladies trying to escape from pre-arranged fates. It's all very traditional.

Traditional does not necessarily mean bad, and Jones laces her story with some darker and more interesting elements. The book is fairly 'low fantasy' in nature, dwelling on conspiracies, murders and assassinations. Characters such as Baralis are ruthless and merciless, but do not see themselves that way and are presented as the hero of their own story. Blurring the moral boundaries nicely, Jones sets up the greatest threats to Baralis as coming from Tavalisk, Archbishop of the distant city of Rorn, who himself is a venal, vain, arrogant and cruel man, little better than Baralis; and Maybor, Baralis's rival at court and the father of Melliandra, who is also presented as a violent and unpleasant man. The fact that these three characters are as bad as one another makes it hard to root for any side, although Jones gives a more sympathetic portrait of the three characters caught up in the three connivers' webs: Jack, Melliandra and Tawl, a knight who is searching for a young boy whose coming is foretold in prophecy (yes, one of those). There is also a tremendously satisfying vein of black humour running through the book, such as Tavalisk's wry observations of events being accompanied by a battle of wits with his much put-upon manservant.

Whilst Jones mixes the traditional fantasy ingredients up a little, and the book is always readable, regular genre readers will find little here that has not been done before, and better. As a first novel, The Baker's Boy is certainly very rough in places. Where the book gains some additional value is that Jones later went on to write The Sword of Shadows, a fantasy epic that is categorically superior to almost everything else in the genre (certainly it's batting at the same level as A Song of Ice and Fire, the Malazan series and the works of Guy Gavriel Kay). Whilst The Book of Words is nowhere near as good, though there is an escalation in quality from book to book that is impressive to watch, it's certainly worth a look as some characters that re-occur in the later Sword of Shadows do first appear here, and knowing their backstory has some worth for the later books.

The Baker's Boy (***) is as traditional a start to a fantasy series as there has ever been, though it remains resolutely entertaining. There are some rough spots as Jones comes up to speed but there's a rich vein of dark humour, some solid characterisation and an ending that was rather startling and refreshingly bleak in those altogether more cliched times when the book first came out.
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on 25 August 1999
After reading JV Jone's stand-alone fantasy, The Barbed Coil, I was impressed with the refreshingly gritty style and distinctive, well drawn charactetrs. Jones steers clear of the typical 'epic', with buckets of disposable characters, to concentrate on developing depth to her limited cast. The Baker's Boy weaves an entertaining tale of intrigue and court politics, epecially through the unscrupless sorcerer, Baralis, and his rival, Lord Maybor. I look forward to following these and the other characters in the subsequent books.
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