The First Betrayal
by Patricia Bray
Review by Cathy Green
Spectra Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0553588761
Date: 30 May, 2006 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Bray takes several chapters to set the scene, introduce the characters and build her world in The First Betrayal. It is important for the reader to have a good sense of the world in which the novel unfolds and of the characters involved, since it quickly becomes apparent that none of the main characters are reliable or omniscient narrators. Josan, for instance, has been exiled to the lighthouse because of an illness which deprived him of his memory, making him useless as a scholar. However, it soon becomes clear that there must be another reason Brother Nikos and Brother Thanatos sent him away from the main Ikarian city of Karytos, but Josan (and therefore the reader) has no idea what that reason is, given that the Josan's Order will not allow him to return to the capital when his memory starts to return.
Lady Ysobel, in addition to being her government's trade representative, is very quickly revealed to be a spy. The Ikarian Queen may have rightful claim to the throne, but it is enforced through the use of torture, which the Queen watches, on the theory that if she orders it, she should also witness it and have full knowledge of what is being done in her name pursuant to her orders. As a result, virtually all the important characters are neither clearly good nor bad, each having qualities that elicit sympathy and distaste from the reader.
Bray sets the background and allows the plot to slowly unfold over the first half of the book. However, once all the characters have reached the capital of the Ikarian Empire, the political maneuvering and palace intrigue really get going and the book becomes very hard to put down. Because most of the characters are morally ambiguous, it is not clear for whom the reader is meant to root or what outcome the reader should be hoping for. The reader is in for a number of surprises before the various conspiracies are resolved and the book reaches its conclusion.
The First Betrayal is a fast, fun read. Bray neatly and satisfactorily resolves all her plot threads. The book is a solid, stand alone, fantasy novel. If you're looking for a compact, tightly written fantasy novel, you should definitely give it a try.