devra's Reviews > Ysabel

Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
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's review
Jun 12, 2007

did not like it
bookshelves: fantasy
Read in February, 2007

it seemed, at first, as if prayers had been answered. my immediate thought, that this novel would more closely resemble the motifs of fionavar, seemed vindicated. ned, the 15-year-old protagonist, was interesting enough (although i felt that GGK was a bit too glib with his time-dated references to googling and ipods and coldplay), and in classical fashion the reader is drawn immediately into the story (again, more in the way of fionavar than in the style of his “historical” novels. that is to say, we meet the protagonist in on his way toward what he is becoming, but not in medias res of some kind of mission, premonition or dark, half-told foreshadowing).

i have no doubt in my mind that had GGK given it the kind of treatment he had granted fionavar, it would have been spell-binding. there was certainly all the potential for an engrossing multi-book arc--we could have had an entire book, practically, of building up to the appearance of YSABEL. we could have gotten more of an idea of the tensions that existed in the ford family after kim came home from fionavar.

i had originally speculated the GGK could have given us that flashback, or told us that story--he did it for dave, at least, in his arc of the original trilogy--but then i recalled his treatment of kevin and jennifer. we never got a flashback, never got a sense of what they had truly gone through on their roads toward their destinies. i suppose it would be too much to expect GGK to grant us that courtesy with kim and dave, however fascinating the story might have been. i almost ache for it--to hear how kim would have tried to return to a normal life and failed. how she and dave--who had given us the barest hint of a courtship in fionavar--rushed off and got married and moved to glastonbury. (clearly some kind of arthurian complex that i DO NOT understand, given how thoroughly GGK examined kim’s self-loathing for re-igniting the arthurian legend during TWF) and how that change had affected her family. why kim couldn’t have kids. who told jen’s family what had happened?

i’m overwhelmed by the squandered potential of this storyline. even the plot was flimsily resolved, with more of the same half-assed dues-ex-machina of having ned turn out to be the descendant of the illegitimate child fathered by YSABEL at some point during the 2000-year history this story is meant to encompass. and at the end, poof!
the most appalling, from a purely nostalgic-for-fionavar standpoint, is that we never see ned do the obvious--which is to sieze the opportunity, ANY opportunity, to corner either his aunt or his uncle and demand an explanation for the allusions they keep dropping, the names they use to frighten the players (and why these names might have the power to frighten), the reason for the rift between their families. it is, i think, what any self-respecting protagonist would do in the midst of so much strangeness. but GGK keeps this key trio separated for most of the book, on the pretense that since each of the three of them has some kind of ability, they should each be leading their own “team” in the investigation. and even i must confess that such a scene would be difficult to execute without either rehashing the entire fionavar trilogy or sounding like too much unnecessary expositing on the part of either kim or dave (after all, it is meant to be ned’s story).

i had gotten about halfway through the book before i turned out the lights for the evening, feeling very disconcerted. i consoled myself that i had felt much the same when i first read TST, because it was so strange and everything was continually left unexplained. fortunately, by the end of the trilogy, even if things hadn’t been fully exposited, enough was known to invest the reader in the story.

sadly, the same cannot be said for YSABEL.
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09/04 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Glen (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:22AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Glen Thanks for taking the time to write such a comprehensive review. I wanted to like the book, but ulitmately, I agree with all you've written.

message 2: by Phyl (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Phyl I've often felt that Guy's books after Fionavar lacked a little something marvelous, which would be bizarre considering that the "marvelous" is what he mainly writes about. Eventually I figured out that his later books didn't seem quite...real...mainly because his most-real work had been with the five characters from our world in their experiences in Fionavar.

So I actually really liked how Kim and Dave showed up in this book. Their appearance added a shimmer to the book, for me, that probably wouldn't have been there, otherwise.

But I agree about a lot of the points you make. When I met GGK at readings and a convention, after Fionavar was finished, I pestered him to find out what happened afterward -- to Kevin's father, to Dave and his family, and so on. It would have been nice to have more detail about that, at last, if he was going to bring back Kim and Dave.

And I agree that we really didn't get into the minds and souls of characters in any real depth, the way we have in other books. So I enjoyed it in many ways, and found it kind of a pale shadow in others.

Jennifer I think you're too hung up on the Kim/Dave aspect of this book. While I ADORE the Fionavar Tapestry and at first I was thrilled to find these two characters in this book, ultimately I found it to be distracting and rather annoying. So I agree with you that the treatment of these two characters was disappointing, but instead of worrying so much about it, I focussed more on Ned and his story and found that I enjoyed the novel. It did not have the pathos or majesty of Fionavar. But as a stand-alone I still found it remarkable and enjoyable.

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