I absolutely hated hated hated Guy Gavriel Kay’s previous book, so when I picked up Kay’s Ysabel , it was with a certain amount of trepidation. I probably wouldn’t have even tried it if not for Anne giving it the all clear. Fortunately, my caution was mostly misplaced, because Ysabel is a perfectly fine book.
That’s pretty much all it is, though. There’s none of the brilliance or intensity of Kay’s best work (the Sarantine Mosaic novels, say), just a sort of quiet competence. But that’s okay, becuase Ysabel isn’t really much like Kay’s other books. His normal thing is to re-tell a period of history in a fantasticized and nearly operatic way, whereas here he’s telling a story about a couple of (American) teenagers in current day France. It actually feels really close to a YA novel, and feels more like Diane Duane’s Wizard novels than it does like Kay’s other novels.
In fact, now that I say that, yeah, wow, this is actually quite a bit like Duane’s A Wizard Abroad, where (if I’m remembering the story right), vacationing American teenagers nearly get submerged into an ancient Celtic myth. Because it probably won’t come as a surprise if I tell you that the protagonist of this story gets sort of tied up in ancient mythic doings, too. I mean, it is a fantasy novel, right?
At any rate, if this isn’t exactly a return to form for Kay, it’s at least a return to not sucking, and I’ll take it. If a YA-ish novel of present-day France infused with ancient mysteries and magic sounds fun to you, you should take it too.