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The First Betrayal: The Chronicles of Josan    by Patricia Bray order for
First Betrayal
by Patricia Bray
Order:  USA  Can
Spectra, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Josan of the Learned Brethren has served as lighthouse keeper on remote Txomin's Island since a devastating fever left him 'a witless child in the body of a man.' After five years, recovered in mind and body, he asks to return to Karystos in Ikaria, but is consistently refused by Brother Nikos, head of his order, and a close confidant of the ruthless Empress Nerissa.

Then a violent storm leaves Lady Ysobel Flordelis (a brilliant and successful member of a prominent trading family in the Seddon Federation) on the island, her ship lost at sea. When villagers ask him to translate for them, Ysabel meets Josan, whose features look familiar to her. This sets in train a sequence of events that will affect many - both individuals and realms.

Lady Ysobel makes her way overland to Karystos, where she's been appointed the new Seddonian trade liaison, and secretly tasked with the revival of the rebellion against the Empress that Nerissa brutally crushed when Ysobel was last in the city - the uprising's figurehead, Prince Lucius - heir to the old blood - was tortured and killed (along with a multitude of his supporters) when the revolt failed.

As Ysobel weaves her treasonous web in Karystos, an assassination attempt awakens surprising skills in Josan and sends him in flight from the island. He makes his way south and eventually gains employment with ex-soldier Myles, now a stable owner, but previously involved in the revolt. Myles also recognizes something familiar in Josan, and eventually sells up and accompanies him to Karystos.

There, all plot threads pull together, and we finally learn about Josan's past, and about others' plans for him. But his island existence has changed him greatly so that he takes his fate in his own hands in a manner that surprises everyone around him. Fortunately Lady Ysobel (she impressed me more than the story's bedevilled hero whose actions and motivations did not quite ring true) always plans for the unexpected.

The First Betrayal is a fine beginning to The Chronicles of Josan, an intriguing new series set in a well developed fantasy world. Though the final plot twist in this first episode was awkward, I look forward to more of Lady Ysobel's machinations and to see how Josan develops in both magical talents and in character in the next volume, The Sea Change.

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