Jumpdrives & Cantrips

The First Betrayal

The First BetrayalI’ve got to admit, Patricia Bray‘s The First Betrayal was one of the books on my pile o’ shame ever since my dad–also a fan of SF/F–insisted I borrow his copy. He rarely ever recommends books, so it went on the TBR pile. And there it stayed for some time, until now.

The First Betrayal begins slowly with Josan, a scholarly monk who has been exiled to a distant lighthouse to regain his health after suffering a debilitating fever that garbled most of his memories. Take note: Prince Lucius has been missing and presumed dead since Josan’s mysterious fever. This is a little like the gun on the mantle mentioned in chapter one of a mystery novel. Josan realizes he and Prince Lucius share Lucius’ body, but not before he gets recognized and plunked in the centre of a conspiracy plotting a bloody revolt as addendum to the failed revolt some years ago.

Ambition and personal power are two thematic threads that Bray emphasizes throughout the novel. While Josan/Lucius serves as an example of attempting to resolve inner conflict and competition, Lady Ysobel looks to cause conflict on an international level to benefit her homeland, Seddon. As a foreign trade diplomat, she was sent to aid a revolt to disrupt Ikaria’s trade, leaving additional ports ripe for new trade agreement with the Seddon Federation. Her communiqués and intrigues (she first notices Josan and brings news of him to Ikaria’s capital) move the novel along while Josan/Lucius is swept along by other people until the very end. Because of this I found pacing sketchy in parts and the story’s ups and downs never absorbed me enough to keep my attention fully.

Before getting into the fantasy groove, Patricia Bray wrote regency romances and a need to understand character motivation and emotions informs her writing. The First Betrayal is a story of political interactions on personal levels told by multiple characters, some who inhabit and contest the same body. She deftly describes the inner aspects of her characters, though at times the book suffered from telling more than showing. This came up especially in relation to the co-conspirators and fleetingly with Ysobel, though this was only a minor irritation and potentially a stylistic choice.

Unfortunately at times I found the voices of different characters merged with Bray’s own voice, overriding the characters’ individuality in the multiple POV format. While it’s a great thing for a writer to have a strongly developed voice, Josan the peaceful scholar and Lucius the arrogant prince muddled together when differentiation struck me as the intended effect.

Bray uses many common plot devices from fantasy to good effect, and I was impressed that the ending was not the requisite heroic coup. Instead, Josan/Lucius maneuver into a sacrifice for the greater good that is really the result of being backed into a corner. I want to know what happens next, though I’m hoping Josan/Lucius take on more personal impetus in further volumes, as here they don’t really do all that much. Those who want a nice heroic finish will not be impressed with the ending of The First Betrayal, but I suspect (hope) things will pan out differently over time with the next two books.

The First Betrayal never manages outstanding, but overall, Patricia Bray tells a good story. It’s a nice way to spend an afternoon, especially if you want more intrigue than swords, and more inner conflict than magic. For some reason I kept getting flashes of Robin Hobb while I was reading–more to do with content than style. In any case, I certainly recommend this series as a tangent to epic fantasy, nicely contained in smaller portions than the mega-tomes that seem so common these days.

Bray, Patricia. The First Betrayal. New York: Bantam Spectra, 2006. 343 pages. $9.99 (Canadian).


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

great review!

Comment by kimber an

Very nice review. It’s good also that you eliminated one book from your pile o’ shame :).

Comment by Dark Wolf

Thanks, both of you! I was happy to decrease it by one, even though I added 3 this past weekend… *grin*


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