Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review: Ysabel

By Guy Gavriel Kay

Saint-Saveur Cathedral of Aix-en-Provence is an ancient structure of many secrets-a perfect monument to fill the lens of a celebrated photographer, and a perfect place for the photographer's son, Ned Marriner, to lose himself while his father works.

 But the cathedral isn't the empty edifice it appears to be. Its history is very much alive in the present day-and it's calling out to Ned.

Why I read it: I saw a friend reading this one day, so I decided to steal it. She told me that it was a really good book, but then upon a second read said it wasn’t as good as she remembered. I kind of share her opinion.

What I liked: The setting in this story is done very well. In the acknowledgements the author reveals that he spent quite awhile in Provence, France, while writing this book, and I certainly believe it. The locations are all well-described, and I believe they actually do exist. I’m a huge fan of books that are set in real places, and not just generic ones like NYC. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book set in this time period of France. The MC’s father is a famous photography, so that gave Kay a nice excuse for us to visit many exotic locations.

The backstory is also a strong part of this book. I won’t tell you any of it, because that would ruin it, but it weaves so legendary figures together with historical events. It leans a bit more toward the paranormal than I would have liked, but it’s more old Celtic legends (which I do enjoy.) I also loved how Kay uses real historical events that I learned about in University—such as the Roman general, Marius, defeating the Celtic tribes of the Cimbri and the Teutons.

What I disliked: The main thing that I didn’t care for was that I spent a fair bit of this book confused. Apparently it’s kind of a companion to some of Kay’s other works, so certain characters and paranormal abilities weren’t explained as much as they really should have been. Also, two of the ‘bad guys’ seem really scary in the beginning and are constantly talking about how they could kill Ned if they wanted, but even when he starts messing up their plans, they never do anything. In fact, they call to him for help several times.

Another thing was that Kay constantly refers to Ned as a ‘child.’ Maybe 15 is a child, but when you’re writing for a YA audience, calling the MC a ‘child’ feels like an insult.

The romance aspect was a little strange. Kate and Ned started to like each other really quickly, but when the real plot picked up they basically forgot all about each other. They were separated for virtually all the exciting part of the book, and then only got together again at the very end, when Kate accuses Ned of sleeping with a 25 year old woman. Jealous, much?

From a Christian Perspective: There was a little bit of swearing, which annoyed me because it was really unnecessary considering the setting. As for sexual content, there were one or two really quick kisses. Since the MC is a boy he does have some impure thoughts, and he jokes about waking the house up just so that Kate would walk around in a T-shirt so he could stare at her legs. Though Ned does spend a night alone with a woman and his brain automatically goes to sex, she’s ten years older than him so, thankfully, it goes absolutely nowhere.

To buy or not to buy: This wasn’t a bad read, and possibly some of my annoyances come from having read it too fast so I didn’t understand everything. I’d suggest reading some of Kay’s other work first, and then possibly picking up this book. 

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