Prior commitments prevented me from reading this novel as soon as I would have wanted to. And now that I've finally read it, I wish I could have done so earlier. Typical of Kay, Ysabel stands head and shoulders above most fantasy books out there. Some might disagree, but Guy Gavriel Kay is likely the only writer who has yet to disappoint me. Every time this author releases a novel, I always know that I'm about to plunge into a superior tale. And Ysabel is no exception!
This one takes place in a contemporary setting, namely in and around Aix-en-Provence, in the south of France. Kay was living in the area while researching and writing Ysabel, and his firsthand experience ensures an authentic feel throughout the novel. Not surprisingly, the narrative is evocative and the resulting imagery leaps through every page.
Kay took on quite a challenge when he made a teenager the story's main protagonist. Indeed, very few authors succeed at developing believable and genuine teenage characters. Two that immediately come to mind are Robin Hobb and George R. R. Martin. Well, I think that Kay did a splendid job with Ned Marriner, capturing how awkward those years tend to be for young men.
Guy Gavriel Kay is perhaps best known for his thoughful insight into human nature. His characterizations rank among the very best in the genre, and he can somehow convey layers of emotions that few writing today can match. In Ysabel, Kay demonstrates how skilled he is at developing a cast of disparate characters. Understandably, the relationships between the Marriner family members take center stage. And yet, several secondary characters provide depth to a work that already resounds with it.
The author always does his homework, which is evident once again in Ysabel. The pace and the dialogues are perfect. The storylines are convoluted enough to keep you turning those pages well past your bedtime a few nights running!
As a Montrealer myself, I got quite a kick out of all those Montreal references (the Marriner family hails from MTL). I have to admit that it's kind of neat to have a Canadian as the main character of Ysabel. In addition, the narrative brought me back in time, back to when I first visited Provence. For the record, my first experience in Aix was nowhere near as traumatic as Ned's. The highlight for me, if I remember correctly (keep in mind I was part of a Contiki tour) was finding a working ATM!
Although universally acclaimed, or so it seems, at times it feels as though Guy Gavriel Kay remains the most underappreciated fantasy author in the world today. If you haven't had the pleasure already, do yourself a favor and read Kay's brilliant works in which history and fantasy come together and create something only a Kay novel can deliver! Believe me when I say you'll be glad you did!
Ysabel is without the shadow of a doubt one of the books to read in 2007. Be sure to check out the novel's website: www.ysabel.ca