Colin Birge's Reviews > Ysabel

Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
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's review
May 01, 10

Read in May, 2010

I've read Ysabel before, but picked it up again tonight to remind myself of the structure and poetry of it. I devour everything Guy Gavriel Kay writes, and Ysabel was no exception, but for me it was not the most successful of Kay's books.

Kay got his start in high fantasy. He had a significant part in reconstructing Tolkien's The Silmarillion, and wrote his own myth-bending fantasy trilogy called The Fionavar Tapestry. In more recent years he's been known for a loosely connected alternate-history with fantasy elements, beginning with The Lions of al-Rassan. Ysabel was a departure: a book set in modern times, with ties to a story much, much older.

Kay's writing is poetry, and his research impeccable, but he's not quite as comfortable with stories set in today's world. His normally rich characters, especially the modern ones, were in several cases cardboard cutouts, interchangeable and replaceable. His point-of-view character is a teenager who reads as a flat, idealized idea of "teenager," a case study from an adolescent psychology textbook. Only a few of the characters remained in your mind after you finished the book, and that's rare for a Kay novel.

This sounds more negative than it should. Kay is a fabulous writer. The poetry and description in the book, as well as the research into its setting of Provence, elevate Ysabel to a very high level. It may be that I'm so used to his high standards that I was surprised when this book didn't quite reach the same peak.

Two of the major characters are holdovers from The Fionavar Tapestry. Parts of the book won't make much sense if you don't know the earlier tale.

If this is your first introduction to Kay, check out The Last Light Of The Sun or his early work Tigana first. If his writing is an old and beloved friend to you, enjoy this one, knowing that a work that's not his best is still better than most.

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