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.
Awards and Nominations:
- Locus Award Finalist (Fantasy Novel, 2008)
- Sunburst Award Honorable Mention (adult, 2008)
- World Fantasy Award (Novel, 2008)
- Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Nominee (Adult Literature, 2008)