So the first page of Ysabel was a shock: it's set in contemporary times. Hell, the lead character, Ned Marriner, is wandering around a cathedral in Provance, listening to the 'Zep on his iPod while his world-famous photographer father sets up photoshoots.
Ned's fifteen, and Canadian. In the cathedral, he bumps into Kate Wenger, an exchange student from New York, and together, they encounter a strange man lurking in the (supposedly locked) crypt areas. Shortly after that, Ned starts feeling and knowing things - about the strange man, about the carvings, and we're off.
I enjoyed this a lot. Last Light... was rather Kay-lite, so I had worries, but this is better. It's a single-volume tale, as most of Kay's work has been, and it's shorter, but this is a good thing, I think. It doesn't feel overly padded, or rushed. More than anything else, it reminded me of Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising, shortly to be butchered in celluloid form. Like Cooper's Will Stanton, Ned's a quiet, thoughtful teenager coming into something older than himself, and being scared and looking to his family for support, but not shirking responsibility, and (most importantly) not being a jerk. Nor are his family.
Like most of Kay's work, there's not really any Bad Guys in this. It's not a case of Defeating the Evil. It's more: some things just happen this way; you make choices, you receive consequences; whether they are to your liking is irrelevant. Ned, Kate and his family are trying to save one of their own, but that conflicts with a conflict that's been going on for centuries. The protagonists of that conflict have their own desires that are incompatible with Ned's. Not wrong or evil, just different and incompatible. And I find that to be a far more satisfactory approach.