Book Review: Ysabel

Ysabel, by Guy Gavriel Kay (Fantasy, 416 pages)

If you’ve read any of Guy Gavriel Kay’s fiction, you know he tends towards lyrical language and infuses his stories with a unique sense of languid urgency.  By this, I mean his beautiful prose encourages the reader to linger on each sentence, but the pace of the plot nudges you along insistently.  Ysabel, one of Kay’s most recent offerings, is no exception.

Though set in modern day Provence, Ysabel echoes Kay’s interest in the way history is a dynamic force, malleable, intruding upon and influencing the present.  The story follows Ned, a fifteen year old Canadian spending several months in France with his famous photographer father.  Bored by his father’s work, Ned stumbles (seemingly by accident) into an ancient clash between the Celts and Romans playing itself out endlessly through time.  Just as it melds past and present, Ysabel also deftly weaves a large cast of characters into what is ultimately revealed as an intimate family drama.

Despite the fact I was traveling and incredibly busy, I read this book cover-to-cover in just three days.  Once I picked it up, I found it almost impossible to put down.  I think this had something to do with the way Kay united a classic fantasy with a contemporary coming of age story.  Ysabel is a compelling read, beautifully written and plotted.

Also by Guy Gavriel Kay and highly recommended by this reader: Tigana and Last Light of the Sun.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Ysabel

  1. alec

    I don’t want to say much because of spoilers, but while it isn’t a sequel, there are some characters and events referenced from GGK’s first novels, The Fionavar Tapestry (a trilogy).

    However, Ysabel was very deliberately written with the idea that many readers would not be familiar with these earlier novels. In fact, GGK has mentioned that those who haven’t already read the trilogy will experience some things (a parallel within the book) that those who have read the trilogy miss out on.

  2. Robyn

    I had previously read The Fionavar Tapestry (several years ago) and one of my friends had to explain to me the significance of those characters in Ysabel, actually. It wasn’t important to Ysabel’s plot, just a nice extra layer of richness once I knew about it.

    Kind of embarrassing, though.

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