Sunday, 28 October 2007

Ysabel - Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay is one of my favourite authors, and his latest novel is Ysabel. This is set in modern day Provence (France) and is almost a 'coming of age' story, with the protagonist a 15-yr old boy who discovers within him a 'connection' with the mysterious supernatural world of Celtic/Roman mythology. At the heart of the story is an ancient love triangle that has replayed itself out for two and half millennia

GGK's trademark is blending history with fantasy, but normally his novels are set in a completely mythological world that presents a different take on a period of history. My favourite of his novels is The Lions of Al-Rassan, which explores the role of religion in driving war, and is set in an alternate Spain at the time of the Moorish occupation.

Come to think of it, he focuses on Europe a lot, having previously dealt with renaissance Provence (A song for Arbonne), renaissance Italy (Tigana), the Byzantine empire (The Sarantine Mosaic), and Viking raids on Britain (The last light of the sun).

However, Ysabel is set in the present, as mentioned. This shift, along with the shift to a younger protagonist, made for quite a different feel. (Although, having said that, each of his novels has quite a different feel from the last.) I enjoyed the book a lot -- it was probably an easier read than his previous books, making me wonder whether it was targeted at the young adult market.

I should also add that I got a shock ~2/3 through when I suddenly realised there was a link with the first GGK books I ever read over 20 years ago, The Fionavar Tapestry! This had me rumaging around in my bookshelves in the middle of night, dragging out these books to check the connection. It also has me considering reading The Fionavar Tapestry again!

Interestingly, I found myself reading Ysabel rather analytically. In other words, examining the opening (hook), how the story was paced from there, how the tension built up again, the spacing of the dramatic scenes and relative intensity of them, where the turning points were and how they were used, how new information was introduced to catch the reader again, chapter endings (some were cliffhangers, some not), sentence structure and language. In many ways, this was a good book to study like this, because all these things were remarkably clear and the plot not too complicated (nor too long).


  1. Oh gosh, I'll have to borrow it from you. I loved Tigana. Didn't realise it was linked to renaissance Italy, oh well. Might need to read the Fionavar Tapestry first though. Hugs, A.

  2. Happy to lend it to you. I think I read about the Italian link in Tigana, because I agree it wasn't obvious. (Not like Al-Rassan.) Don't think you need to read Fionavar to enjoy Ysable though. I can barely remember the story.