Thursday, March 31

Book Review: Ysabel

Title: Ysabel

Author: Guy Gavriel Kay

Pages: 416

Summary: Ned Marriner is spending springtime with his father in Provence, where the celebrated photographer is shooting images for glossy coffee-table book. Both father and son fear for Ned’s mother, physician for Doctors without Borders, currently assigned to the civil war-torn region of Sudan. Ned has inherited her courage and perhaps more than that.

While his father is photographs the cathedral of Aix-en-Provence, Ned explores the shadowy interior with Kate Wenger, and American exchange student who has a deep knowledge of the area’s history. The surprise an intruder in place where he should not be: “I think you ought to go now,” he tells them drawing a knife: “You have blundered into a corner of a very old story.”
In a modern world of iPods, cellphones, and SUVs whipping along roads walked by Celtic tribes and Roman legions, a centuries-old saga seems to be beginning again.

In this sublime and ancient corner of the world, where borders between the living and the long-dead are most vulnerable, Ned and those close to him re bout to be drawn into a haunted tale, as mythic figured from conflicts long ago erupt into the present, changing and claiming lives.

My Rating: 5.75/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: The author is very talented in writing some interesting fantasy, mixed with history - a type of fantasy which is new to me. I did enjoy the overall story and its historical and almost mythological context, it was very different from other fantasy books I’ve read, but a refreshing different. It kept me interested throughout the book, and I wanted to find out how it all played out, but I felt the execution of the book, and the way it was told just didn’t work.

The main issue I had with the book was that the author concentrated too much on trying to connect with a younger audience, and younger voice to the point it felt forced. The book had a heavy focus on how the author thought the teenage mind worked, what they liked, and how they perceived the world. This made the narrative and how the characters thought and reacted to events seem forced, instead of having a natural feel to it. Also, the constant mentions of the different technological devices, trends and terms really ruined the flow of the book. Again, how it was laid out in the book, just didn’t seem to fit right, and it made for a very choppy read. I think if the author stopped trying to connect to the teenage audience, by writing what he thought was “trendy” and “in”, the book would have worked a lot better, but the attempt to connect with a younger audience, fell flat for me, and made the book hard to get through.

Would I recommend it to read: I think I would, it wasn’t a horrible book, in fact it was quite good, and there were just a lot of elements that didn’t work for me, fans of YA lit would likely enjoy the book more than others. So I’d recommend it to them, but for other readers, I’d likely suggest if you want to read the author, to try one of his other books. I hear he has a very good style and vision in the historical-fantasy genre

What to read next: I’d recommend more books by the author, I’ve heard some good things about some of the other books he’s written.


  1. I really like Kay, but I have never felt any desire to read this book by him. I don't think I'm likely to, either. I am sorry that the voice seemed so forced here. I do think that Kay can sometimes get caught up with certain writing themes he is a big fan of, but his book The Lions of Al-Rassan is one of my all-time favorites. If you have time to give him another go, I recommend that one :-)

  2. Thanks to Aarti, and our joint read of The Lions of Al-Rassan, I am a new lover of Kay, and want to try to check out all his books. I have already bought a few, but I am not so sure this one will be high on my priority list as far as his work goes. I also would recommend Lions to you. I think the history and fantasy were just about perfect in that one.

  3. Aarti - The Lions of Al-Rassan, thanks for the tip, I might have to check it out.

    Zibilee - Also new to Kay, and never realized, how big of an author he is.

    Thanks to both of you for the recommendation.

  4. visiting via The Book Mine Set.

    I have this book on my shelf and am still looking forward to it. My sister had recommended I start with this one. I gather she had no problems wit the style. I love how different people can have such varied reactions to the same material.

  5. Heather - Thanks for stopping by. He's a good writer, I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on reading, read by him few weeks ago. And I'm dying to get my hands on his newest book. You're right, it is interesting to see the varied reactions to the books, I hope you enjoy it when you get a chance to read it.

  6. As I've not read his others, I can't comment on his normal quality of writing. Unfortunate that I started with this won, I guess. But I am glad you were able to find at least some redeemable qualities.