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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not typical; but brilliant all the same
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...
Published on Feb. 11 2007 by Terrence Findlay

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Going through the motions?
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...
Published on Jan. 26 2007 by S. Nolke


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Going through the motions?, Jan. 26 2007
By 
S. Nolke (Ottawa, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ysabel (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. Where the Sarantium dualogy could have usefully been edited down into one volume, here the whole book seems to have been written on fast-forward, or to expand on GGK's own new vocabulary, compressed into a ".zip" file.

I considered giving it a mere two stars -- but then again even a mediocre Kay is better than many of the other offerings in the fantasy market.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not typical; but brilliant all the same, Feb. 11 2007
By 
Terrence Findlay "twnf" (Keremeos, British Columbia Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Ysabel (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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Decent, Sept. 7 2007
This review is from: Ysabel (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. Although the reader is meant to feel sympathy for the woman (once the circumstances behind her emotional background come to light) this never really becomes possible. Kay is usually very good with emotions and female characters but this particular woman remains harsh and unattractive even after her late conversion.

Kay is a gifted writer and Ysabel is better than most of what passes for fantasy these days but fans might want to wait until this one comes out in paperback.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Reviews, but..., March 21 2007
By 
Reader of all sorts. (Vernon, British Columbia Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ysabel (Hardcover)
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. It is an average book in terms of enticing the reader. Many good mysteries do a better job of creating suspense. I'm sorry that was the case. I was hoping for a good deal more.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Wrong choice for a protagonist, March 23 2011
By 
Anuraag K. Bhardwaj "Kokanee" (Toronto, ON, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ysabel (Mass Market Paperback)
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 "Twilight saga" ripoff than adult fiction. I'm trying to finish the book, but reading the last few hundred pages is more a test of my speed reading skills than it is of exercising my imagination.

Since this was the first book of Mr. Kay's that I've read, I think I'll avoid his other works in the future. Too bad because the pre/post Roman setting had a lot of potential.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Fun but not my favourite..., Feb. 6 2009
By 
Why Not (Toronto, ON, Can) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ysabel (Mass Market Paperback)
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. His prose isn't as elegant and sophisticated as it has been, and the dialogue does seem extremely contrived, even cheesy at parts... Granted, it could be that the main character of the book was only 15 years old, and so Kay may have been trying to portray the story through an adolescent boy's eyes...? It was a fun read, and I love his incorporation of Celtic mythology - I particularly enjoyed his nod at his earlier (and much more impressive!) work "The Fionavar Tapestry" by reintroducing two of its characters, Dave Martyniuk and Kimberly Ford - but don't pick this up looking for anything more than a light adventure in the French countryside, though it's certainly not a waste of time!
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2.0 out of 5 stars Ysabel...just not up to Kay's previous high standards,, Feb. 5 2008
By 
R. Nicholson - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Ysabel (Mass Market Paperback)
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 millennium old struggle between ancient Celts and Romans.

Although intriguing (and there were a couple of moments of well written, tense confrontations in this tale), this book was not without its flaws. Let me explain...

Early into this novel, I felt there was something about the telling of this tale that did not seem up to the quality of Kay's other novels (and I've read several of this author's works). And then it finally dawned on me; it was the conversations between individuals. Imagine, if you will, being at a live theatre performance where the actors forget their lines and start to improvise on their own to complete the scene; the words and phrases they use ALMOST fit, but not quite. That's how I felt about many (but not all) of the conversations between several individuals in this book; the words and phrases seem almost contrived and a little forced; something just a little off. And I found this perceived 'flaw' to be present throughout this book, thus reducing its overall quality.

Conclusion:
An interesting novel, with an intriguing plot that did have some good moments, however character dialogues seemed to lack a realistic, spontaneous flow, thus reducing this potentially wonderful tale to something very average. 2 to 2 1/2 Stars.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Sequel, June 17 2007
By 
EBT "Galbion" (British Columbia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Ysabel (Hardcover)
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 at least carries on the story of Kimberly Ford). I think Mr. Kay is trying too hard to write as a teenage boy and it definitely is distracting when the adults seem only to speak in that vernacular as well. But all in all a good read and one not easy to put down until that last page is achieved!
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Kay novel in the tradition of Fionavar, March 6 2007
By 
CanadianMother (Ontario) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Ysabel (Hardcover)
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.

The story was compelling for me, and I liked the characters and the setting (Provence). It was interesting to see a couple of characters back from the Fionavar books. I thought that in many ways Ysabel felt like a continuation of Fionavar: some of the same characters are present, as are similar themes and events.

I think that if a person really enjoyed Fionavar, they will like Ysabel too. But those who disliked Fionavar will likely disklike this book too, because it has the same epic romance feel to it--some might even call it cheese. :)

My complaint about this book is the dialogue. Kay seemed to be trying hard to create a strong contrast between the ancient world and the modern, so he made sure to include lots of mentions of iPods, cellphones and Google, and filled the modern characters' dialogue with TONNES of "likes" and "whatevers." The dialogue was so slang-filled at times that I had to cringe. And it definitely didn't feel like Kay, whose prose is normally lyrical and beautiful.

I also noticed several times that these painful conversations seemed to go on far too long. There were many times when I wanted the story to move forward, but had to instead slog through several pages of characters talking about what had already happened. I think the book would have been improved by having less talk and more action.

But thankfully, it didn't take too long to reach the end of this story, and the end is fabulous, and surprising.

Overall, a good book. I'm glad I read it, but I'm sure very few readers would say it is Kay's best.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical, Amazing, Guy Gavriel Kay, Jan. 27 2007
By 
A. Sawatzky "Lomelindi" (Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ysabel (Hardcover)
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 for me. Ysabel is possibly the easiest to read out of all of his books, and I was captivated all throughout. In fact, my jaw actually dropped at the end of chapter one, that's how amazing it was. It's pretty much tied with Tigana right now as my favorite. It's definitely worth reading.
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Ysabel
Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay (Hardcover - Jan. 9 2007)
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