sugoll (sugoll) wrote,

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Ysabel, by Guy Gavriel Kay

I finished reading this the other night. Kay is my favorite fantasy author. Having started with the High Fantasy Fionovar Tapestry trilogy, he's established a trend for taking the sociopolitical environment from a particular region/time period in history, and overlaying it upon moving tales of flawed, human and - crucially - intelligent characters, caught up in supernatural events beyond their control. The Lions of Al-Rassan, comes from Spain. A Song for Arbonne is French history. The Sarantium Mosaic is Roman. His previous novel,  The Last Light of the Sun, was set during viking invasions. (all of these are vague; my knowledge of history is woeful.)

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.
Tags: books, guy gavriel kay
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