I started reading Guy Gavriel Kay because I had the feeling I was supposed to like him. The Fionavar books looked like just the thing for my Tolkien-warped brain. Well, I hated Fionavar, only making it partway into the second book. It got better once he stopped playing insert-the-Simarillion-reference and started writing his own ideas, but I never liked the characters.
The following books, taking place in a shared parallel world are another matter. Strong characters. Fascinating settings. Haunting stories. But they were starting to feel all the same. So when I heard his latest book, Ysabel, was a break from his previous books, I was curious about what direction he would go.
Unlike the leisurely openings of most of his books, the action in Ysabel starts quickly, as Ned Marriner and Kate Wenger encounter a mysterious, dangerous stranger in a beautiful cathedral in France. Unfortunately, I was left cold by the two. Their dialogue was forced, and they didn’t seem like convincing teenagers.
As the mystery unfolds, you discover that two men, Cabell and Phelan have been fighting through the ages for the love of one woman, Ysabel. It sounds romantic, but in the contempory, real-world city of the first third of the book, I found it faintly ridiculous. The fantastic element gets more believable when they move to the countryside, and the dangers threatened begin to have consequence.There are beautiful descriptions, from the cathedral to the mountains. The sense of a long, dark history wells through. But I really wish he didn’t feel the need to bring Fionavar into it. I didn’t catch on as to who Aunt Kim might be. But I definitely remembered Dave Martuniak. Sigh.
Luckily, Kim and Dave manage not to take over the book. There’s some great stuff toward the end, when Ned is climbing the mountain to find Ysabel before the others get there. I found it pretty hard to believe that this kid could beat them. And then it rapidly turns out that he is her distant descendant and Cabell and Phelan basically give up and die. What? Weren’t these the guys who said needing her is like breathing?
Whatever. If you like this, and it’s your first by Guy Gavriel Kay, then congratulations. His other books are all better than this.
Tomorrow: A great book from 2007!