Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

The woods came to the edge of the property: to the gravel of the drive, the electronic gate, and the green twisted-wire fence that kept out the boars.

I’ve heard many good good things about Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing, his ability to create wonderful characters, and a sense of place that puts you right in the middle of the environment he’s describing, that I had to give him a go. I’m happy to say, that, after reading this my first book by him, I was in no way disappointed.

Ned Mariner is a fifteen-year-old Canadian, spending a few Spring weeks in France, while his famous photographer dad, shoots some photos for a upcoming book in Aix-en-Provence, and his mother is in Dafour, volunteering for Medecins Sans Frontiers.

During a shoot at the Saint-Saveur Cathedral, Ned, leaves his father to work and wanders inside the ancient building to explore and listen to his iPod. Whist there, he meets Kate Wenger, a geeky but attractive American girl who quickly becomes a good friend, (and, who is in France as part of a student exchange scheme)  and is also a walking encyclopedia of history. In the cathedral’s 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.”

Soon after, Ned discovers a magic he never realised he had, and then he and Kate are drawn in to the middle of a story thousands of years in the telling, and then his family and friends, must come together (and in some cases face up to old hurts and grievances) to help Ned unravel the past and help change the story.

Whilst it is not a coming-of-age story, it is about Ned discovering his place in things, and growing to meet the challenge, but this can be said about other characters too.

I mentioned at the start about Kay’s ability to transport the reader right in the middle of whatever location he is describing, and his descriptions are at times breathtaking. You are right there in the middle of Aix En Provence, France. Watching the sun rise or set over the ruins and hill sides that surround the town.

And his characterisation is superb, both individually and in the group dynamics. One of the things that can completely sell me on a group of characters is how the author captures there interactions, particularly when they are laughing and joking and generally ribbing each other. This is what a real family/group of friends do to each other, and Kay captures it perfectly.

The ending is top-notch and so the book works perfectly as a stand alone novel and it certainly doesn’t need a sequel, but I enjoyed the characters so much, and there is more we could learn about them, that if it were possible to see Nick and Co again return in a future novel and I would be delighted to do so.

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18 thoughts on “Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

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  • May 15 at 10:59 am
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    Haven’t any of you noticed that Ned aunt Kim and her husband Dave are one and the same Kimberly Ford and Dave Martyniuk from the Fionafar Tapestry?

    • May 15 at 8:54 pm
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      I haven’t read the Fionafar Tapestry yet, but yes I am aware they are. I picked it up when I was reading reading some other reviews online and a couple of the commenters above pointed something similar out. Thanks for mentioning it though.

  • May 6 at 1:59 am
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    This is an author I’ve always told myself I needed to read – being a canadian writer and all. So I picked up Ysabel and I’m totally ashamed to say that the size of this book scares me. Which is weird cause normally I’m all for the ginormous tomb-like reads. But there it sits on my shelf beside Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World. Maybe I’m afraid of getting sucked into these epic fantasy worlds 😀
    This does sound awesome though, perhaps it will be the perfect cottage reading for me this year – thanks for the great review 🙂

    Joanne´s last blog post: Review ♦ Lessons From A Dead Girl

  • May 3 at 11:22 pm
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    And just think about this: as awesome as YSABEL is, it’s one of Kay’s lesser books. 🙂

    Memory´s last blog post: The Sunday Salon

  • May 3 at 9:06 pm
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    Soon. Soon! I will read this (or maybe Last Light of the Sun – the two Kay novels I have yet to read) soon!

    I will agree with Meghan that if you want more of these characters, several of them are from The Fionavar Tapestry. However, those were Kay’s first books, and I thought they were noticeably rougher than his later stuff. Still good, but not nearly as polished, so, fair warning… I wouldn’t want that to turn you off before you’ve read Tigana… and Lions of Al-Rassan… and The Sarantine Mosaic… and… 🙂

    Fyrefly´s last blog post: Sunday Salon: Martinis and the consequences of a review backlog

    • May 3 at 9:20 pm
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      Funnily enough, I’ve got The Lions of Al-Rassan on the TBR shelf. Have for some time actually!

    • May 3 at 9:24 pm
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      I don’t think you will regret it. 🙂

  • May 3 at 7:36 pm
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    Wow! This sounds so good! I had seen this cover around and didn’t know what I’d think of it…It’s a totally different kind of novel than what I was expecting from reading your review! Definitely onto the wishlist. Thanks :/

    Chris´s last blog post: The Sunday Salon – Festival Reading

    • May 3 at 9:22 pm
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      Oh noes! I feel Bad Bloggers points heading my way! LOL

  • May 3 at 4:11 pm
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    You definitely should read The Fionavar Tapestry next, then! While that group of characters isn’t exactly the same, the books work together in small ways that I think you will appreciate. =) I hope you do seek out more work by Kay, he’s one of the best out there, IMO.

    Meghan´s last blog post: TSS: April Reading Wrap-Up

  • May 3 at 3:27 pm
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    This sounds absolutely amazing! I have Tigana here to read, but after I’m done with that, I want this to be my next Gavriel Kay.

    I LOVE it when an author manages to capture interactions and little moments between people well.

    • May 3 at 9:23 pm
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      Looking forwards to your thoughts on Tigana, I suspect that I will be reading more books by Kay in the nearish future!

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