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. Current Mood: pleased