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Ysabel [Hardcover]

Guy Gavriel Kay
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 9 2007
In this exhilarating, moving new work, Guy Gavriel Kay casts brilliant light on the ways in which history—whether of a culture or a family—refuses to be buried. Ned Marriner, fifteen years old, has accompanied his photographer father to Provence for a six-week “shoot” of images for a glossy coffee-table book. Gradually, Ned discovers a very old story playing itself out in this modern world of iPods, cellphones, and seven-seater vans whipping along roads walked by Celtic tribes and Roman legions. On one holy, haunted night of the ancient year, when the borders between the living and the dead are down and fires are lit upon the hills, Ned, his family, and his friends are shockingly drawn into this tale, as dangerous, mythic figures from conflicts of long ago erupt into the present, claiming and changing lives.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Kay (The Last Light of the Sun) departs from his usual historical fantasies to connect the ancient, violent history of France to the present day in this entrancing contemporary fantasy. Fifteen-year-old Canadian Ned Marriner accompanies his famous photographer father, Edward, on a shoot at Aix-en-Provence's Saint-Saveur Cathedral while his physician mother, Meghan, braves the civil war zone in Sudan with Doctors Without Borders. As Ned explores the old cathedral, he meets Kate Wenger, a geeky but attractive American girl who's a walking encyclopedia of history. In the ancient baptistry, the pair are surprised by a mysterious, scarred man wielding a knife who warns that they've "blundered into a corner of a very old story. It is no place for children." But Ned and Kate can't avoid becoming dangerously entangled in a 2,500-year-old love triangle among mythic figures. Kay also weaves in a secondary mystery about Ned's family and his mother's motivation behind her risky, noble work. The author's historical detail, evocative writing and fascinating characters—both ancient and modern—will enthrall mainstream as well as fantasy readers. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

In Kay's eagerly awaited new book set mostly in twenty-first-century Aix-en-Provence, 15-year-old Ned Marriner is spending a spring vacation with his celebrated photographer father during a shoot of the Cathedral of Saint-Sauveur. His mother, a physician with Doctors without Borders, is in the Sudan, so Ned and Dad are extremely worried. Exploring Saint-Sauveur, Ned meets American exchange-student Kate Wenger, who knows a lot about the history of Aix. The two surprise a knife-carrying, scar-faced stranger in the cathedral, who tells them, "I think you ought to go. . . . You have blundered into the corner of a very old story." Ned and Kate, then the rest of his family, including the aunt and uncle from England and his mother, are drawn into an ancient conflict with the shades of Celtic spirits. Kay characterizes Ned superbly as he matures amid fantastic circumstances until he is able to make the final sacrifice; reader disbelief is unimperiled, and psychobabble unindulged. Outstanding characters, folklore, and action add up to another Kay must-read. Frieda Murray
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Going through the motions? Jan. 26 2007
Format:Hardcover
Alas, I found this book a bit of a disappointment, perhaps due to the high standards and expectations Guy Gavriel Kay's previous works have set for spoiled readers like me. The central conceit -- a love triangle played out repeatedly over the millennia -- is one GGK has deployed before, and to much better effect, in the Fionavar tapestry trilogy. The callow central character never does acquire a personality. The return of two of the players from that masterpiece of fantasy is a neat little suprise, but in the end only adds to the element of déjà vu (which is not in the least dispelled by the gratuitous interjections of "new media" lingo -- jpegs, ringtones and iPods, anyone?).

More importantly, however, I found myself resenting the continuous express reminders of just how heavily the weight of history was pressing down on the main characters, and how Oh-So-Deep was their emotional bond. I kept wanting to shout: "Don't TELL me, SHOW me!" But at a scant 430 pages, there is simply no time for the book to develop a convincing narrative arc, for the reader to learn about the characters through their actions, their words and their place in a larger story (all hallmarks of GGK's prvious writings).

Nor is there any room for the author to explore the -- here very few -- intriguing side stories and minor characters that usually give depth, texture and volume to GGK's books. Brys the Duid and that boar are random blips on the landscape, so under-developed and ultimately meaningless that one wonders why GGK even bothered with them; the hints at Dave's presence in Darfur are intriguing, but entirely "off-stage", and as a result seem purely gratuitous.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not typical; but brilliant all the same Feb. 11 2007
Format:Hardcover
Guy Gavriel Kay fans, familiar with his works of historical fantasy, will find this work a departure from his typical fare. In Ysabel the characters from a historical past play out an ancient story but they do so in a modern setting. In the process modern day characters become entangled in their age-old drama. Whereas, in past novels, Kay has established a coherent and consistent context for his characters and story based on some ancient culture, in Ysabel, characters from ancient cultures are made to stand out in stark contrast to the modern setting. The fantastic elements that are seamlessly woven into the ancient cultures of Kay's other works stand out boldly against the backdrop of present day Province. Some may find the contrasts too bold. For me, they are the most compelling aspects of Ysabel. I enjoyed moving in and out of the overlapping worlds. Ned's climactic climb up the mountain, passing ever more into another reality, and his subsequent descent to the present world were all the more gripping because of the dramatic transitioning between the fantastic and the ordinary. Lesser writers would be well advised to steer clear of attempting what Kay has so brilliantly achieved here. It is to Kay's considerable credit as a writer that he so skillfully rendered the fantastic even more fantastic than that of regular fantasy fare without collapsing the reader's suspension of belief so necessary to the enjoyment of speculative fiction. Only in the hands of one so thoroughly in control of his craft could this story be told. Highly recommended.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Decent Sept. 7 2007
Format:Hardcover
Kay is a graceful writer, polished and fluent beyond words. I own all of his previous books (except for his poetry collection) and there is not a weak one in the bunch. I didn't think he could write a lesser book but unfortunately he has with Ysabel. His prose is as liquid and elegant as ever but Ysabel is still lacking.

The book concerns Ned, a 15 year-old who accompanies his father, a famous photographer, and the latter's crew to Provence in southern France to shoot pictures for a coffeetable book. While wandering aimlessly around a medieval cathedral built atop older ruins he and Kate, a visiting American girl, meet a strange man and are drawn inexorably into a rite over 2500 years old. The narrative unspools from there to a somewhat disturbing and bleak ending which is partly reminiscent of Kay's first novel, The Fionavar Tapestry but then the story in Ysabel is obliquely connected to Fionavar.

The problem lies with the fact that this book is set in the modern world, which Kay is not as skilled at evoking. The two teenage protagonists (not to mention a number of the adults) spend significant portions of the book having relatively inane conversations heavy with slang and iconic terminology. iPods, Google, iTunes, Coldplay, yo, Eminem, majorly uncool; Kay drops these words like a pre-teen anxious to establish hipster credentials on a playground. Obviously, since the two main characters are teenagers, Kay has to walk a fine line between making them act like typical vacuous teens and bright, well-read, intellectually curious people but his efforts are hollow. The romantic tension between Ned and Kate, is also sometimes unbelieveable. Another problem lies with Ned's mother, a doctor working in the Sudan at the start of the novel.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Wrong choice for a protagonist
The first few chapters were promising, but spending several dozen pages trying to develop a spoiled teenage boy into the protagonist of the story is making this book more of a... Read more
Published on March 23 2011 by Anuraag K. Bhardwaj
1.0 out of 5 stars SO. CHEESY.
I just can't finish this book. It started out decently, but about 130 or so pages in it just tanked. Read more
Published on May 4 2010 by D. Joyce
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun but not my favourite...
Having read the other reviews, I realize what I have to say it going to seem redundant, but I wanted to say it nonetheless: this is not Kay's best work. Read more
Published on Feb. 6 2009 by Why Not
2.0 out of 5 stars Ysabel...just not up to Kay's previous high standards,
A fantasy/adventure set in the present day Provence area of France.

This was a book with an interesting story line; combining present day people caught up in a... Read more
Published on Feb. 5 2008 by R. Nicholson
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Sequel
As an avid fan of the Summer Tree and the Fionavar Tapestry I was startled (and in some ways delighted) to find that Ysabel is in fact a sequel to this wonderful fantasy tale (or... Read more
Published on June 17 2007 by EBT
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Reviews, but...
I have never read one of Guy Gavriel Kay's novels before. I was intrigued by the reviews, but I am not quite as thrilled as I thought I would be. Read more
Published on March 21 2007 by Reader of all sorts.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Kay novel in the tradition of Fionavar
I enjoyed Ysabel. I found it hard to stop reading, in fact, and read it in a little over a day--although it's not a long book at all, quite short by Kay standards. Read more
Published on March 6 2007 by CanadianMother
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical, Amazing, Guy Gavriel Kay
Well, as usual, GGK's new book is stunning. I have yet to be unimpressed by a book he's written, with the exception of his first trilogy which was entirely too Lord of the Rings... Read more
Published on Jan. 27 2007 by A. Sawatzky
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