In light of the news that Guy Gavriel Kay’s next book is imminent, I dug out my review of his last, Ysabel, originally posted … elsewhere. Never mind where (I try not to).
Ysabel is the story of a fifteen-year-old Canadian boy who is traveling with his photographer father in Provence, and who trips over a Story, getting pulled into something that has been recurring for 2500 years. Then his father’s assistant is pulled in even further, and the only ones who can get her back are Ned (the boy) and his family.
It read strangely like a boys’ adventure story. Since it’s GGK, it’s an exquisitely written boys’ adventure story, but … it’s almost entirely from Ned’s point of view … which I’m afraid distracted me right out of the book a few times wondering how accurate GGK’s command of teenaged argot and taste was. Would even a precocious 15-year-old have that much Zeppelin and Coldplay on his iPod? I do very much think he had the basic roiling emotions of male puberty right (not like I’d know, but it felt right, and hey – he lived it once): one second deep in thought about the Situation, the very next second thoroughly distracted by the memory of a girl’s hair. But I digress. Basically, I don’t think it’s spoilerific to say that the situation is one in which Ned discovers hidden abilities in himself, and it becomes more and more clear that he is the only one who can save the day. And what happens in the last chapter or so emphasized my feeling of aimed-at-adolescent-boys.
It was a pop culture reference smorgasbord – from Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid to Spongebob Squarepants, which coming from GGK just seemed bizarre. It’s been a long while since any of his books took place in the here, never mind the now – so it was perhaps inevitable that there’s a crossover between Ysabel and that last time. It surprised me (though maybe it shouldn’t have), so I’ll shut up about that.
There were some very beautiful moments, and some very powerful moments. That’s sort of the law of the universe when it comes to GGK. But … usually a GGK takes preparation for me to read it; sort of mental calisthenics to get into shape for a challenge. Reading GGK isn’t like picking up a British Cozy and dipping in – you can’t “dip” into GGK. (Well, I can’t.) As an example, the climactic battle in Tigana had me literally breathless with my heart trying to pound out of my chest the first time I read it. This was different, almost dilute (for one thing, the general tone of the book was indeed almost suitable for younger readers – which GGK never really is. This is the only time I can think of where there were no R-rated (or higher) scenes), and a surprisingly quick read. (GGK’s never a quick read.) Almost average – though high average. I still recommend it, as it was very good indeed. I loved the Story. It was just a different sort of animal from the usual by Mr. Kay.