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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read for sunny Provence
I am a huge fan of GGK's work, though looked forward to this book with a little trepidation as I am not such a huge fan of teenage boys! I had recently read Robin McKinley's Dragonhaven (a very different book!), which has a teenage boy narrator, and found it heavy going. But Ned Marriner has a likeable personality, realistic but not annoying, and is a sympathetic...
Published on 26 Jan. 2009 by Sakerfalcon

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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit let down
I, too, look forward eagerly to each new GGK book release and the latest was no exception.

However, despite his usual mastery of language and some gorgeous descriptions of the area around Provence, I found it hard to connect with the characters in this book. When you look at the depth of characterisation in some of his other work (The Lions of Al-Rassan or...
Published on 15 Mar. 2007 by Janet Mckenzie


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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit let down, 15 Mar. 2007
By 
Janet Mckenzie (Hants, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ysabel (Paperback)
I, too, look forward eagerly to each new GGK book release and the latest was no exception.

However, despite his usual mastery of language and some gorgeous descriptions of the area around Provence, I found it hard to connect with the characters in this book. When you look at the depth of characterisation in some of his other work (The Lions of Al-Rassan or Tigana for example), it really brings home how most of the protagonists are only lightly drawn with the broadest of strokes.

Sadly, the plot also felt a little on the light side - a lot of questions were raised but then many allowed to fall by the wayside and ignored. Perhaps Kay was having too good a time researching in Provence to focus to the level he is capable of?!

Still, that said, it's still an enjoyable read but if this is your first foray into Kay's work, you might prefer to start with some of his earlier works instead to get a true impression of what he's capable of.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read for sunny Provence, 26 Jan. 2009
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This review is from: Ysabel (Paperback)
I am a huge fan of GGK's work, though looked forward to this book with a little trepidation as I am not such a huge fan of teenage boys! I had recently read Robin McKinley's Dragonhaven (a very different book!), which has a teenage boy narrator, and found it heavy going. But Ned Marriner has a likeable personality, realistic but not annoying, and is a sympathetic viewpoint character. I especially enjoyed the dynamic between him and the adults around him, as he seeks both their support and his independence.

Provence is gloriously depicted, and the rented villa sounds idyllic! Into this paradise come violent events from prehistory, as mysterious figures loom, appear and threaten. There are violent scenes, but things never get as dark as, say, the events of Fionavar. I don't feel this is a bad thing though, as the characters and atmosphere are all as strong as one expects from Kay.

Many readers seem to have been disappointed by this book, and to be sure, it is not in the same class as Fionavar or Sarantium. But Kay is doing something different here, looking at the invasion of the distant past into our modern world, and the effect this has on a couple of teenagers and those who seek to protect them. As such, I think he succeeds admirably in showing how they are all forced to change their assumptions and broaden their horizons, as well as writing a thoroughly compelling story. This book could appeal to a younger audience than is usual for Kay's writing, which can only be a good thing for his continuing popularity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars review of Ysabel, 27 Sept. 2013
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This review is from: Ysabel (Paperback)
I read Tigana on the recommendation of a friend, and was mesmerised, so immediately bought 3 other Kay books, including this.

Two of the the three (The Lions of Al Rassan and Sailing to Sarantium) were also absolutely outstanding. The level of detail, the beauty of the writing and the depth of characterisation are, I think, without parallel in fantasy. I certainly haven't encountered fantasy before that prompted me to go and buy historical texts (books on the Moors in Iberia and Constantinople under Justininan, respectively, along with Simon Shama's 'Landscape and Memory').

So I started Ysabel with high hopes. And was very, very disappointed. There are touches of the magic in his other books, and you glimpse them like old friends disappearing around a corner. The rest is dull, formulaic and characterless. It very much reads like a standard 'young adult' book. In fact, it is so close to the genre, and captures so many of its worst aspects (a real coyness with sex and swearing; poor humour relying on clumsy running gags; awkward references to pop culture and technology; heroic, larger-than-life and morally flawless parents etc etc) that you start to wonder if this is deliberate. So I have two theories: (i) it's a pastiche of the young adult genre, and Kay was seeing how far he could go before someone caught him out - but no one called him on it. Or (ii) he was deliberately targeting the young adult market after the success of execrable nonsense like Eragon.

So - for fans of his other books: don't read it. It really isn't worth it. There's a good story in there, and had it got the same treatment as his others, it would have been superb. As it is, it's very poor. I really don't understand why it won an award.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Falls short of the Kay gold standard, 9 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Ysabel (Paperback)
Ysabel was a rather mixed experience as I consider Guy Gavriel Kay to be a very talented writer and evocative storyteller. The most enjoyable part of reading this book was the wonderful sense of place and history that it imparts. If you live or have travelled in Provence then the descriptions of sunlight and shadow, architecture and landscape reminds you what is so attractive, for many, about that part of the world. The underlying wealth of history, always a strong point in his novels, is here too - sometimes hinted at, sometime clearly written. Yet the novel never quite reached its full potential for me.

The two biggest drawbacks definitely are the characterization and dialogue. Ned Marriner, the initially reluctant hero, I think is fairly well-depicted as a teenager who is going through growing pains to find his place in the world. The internal struggles of dealing with a successful, and famous, photographer father and an absent but dedicated mother, who works as a doctor in some of the world's more troubled countries, is deftly done in the early parts of the book. However I did not find Ned a particularly engaging character. Perhaps due to his dialogue which largely appeared to be of either questioning others, making rather bad puns and jokes and learning how to flirt with girls. Because Ned is the focal point much of the action and dialogue refers to mobile phones, emails, texts and every day technology. All of which seems to jar against the story line - it reads as self-conscious and uncomfortable, as though the writer thought it had to be included but did so uneasily.

Most of the other characters surrounding Ned are not well-served in the book. I found that rather disappointing as usually Guy Gavriel Kay's writing portrays people with wit, intelligence and resourcefulness but here you get rough outlines of those attributes. The hints you receive are intriguing but never reach a fully-fleshed out stage. The "villains" of the novel are of greater interest in that they do show more strongly what they could be. As it came to its ending I couldn't help but wish that the book had been given over to them and their background rather than Ned and his family.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ysabel, 27 July 2010
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This review is from: Ysabel (Paperback)
Having read several books by Guy Gavriel Kay including the wonderful Fionavar Trilogy over a decade ago, I looked forward to reading Ysabel. I was not disappointed. The book engaged from page 1 and the teenage lead character did not put me off at all (he's just not the annoying sort of teenager). The story takes place in the here and now and the south of France is beautifully described and the plot zings along with interesting twists.( I have to own up to taking a while to working out who Aunt Kim and Uncle Dave were...I had a 'duh!' moment when I did! ) I read it twice in quick succession and couldn't put it down either time.I found it beautifully crafted and wanted to read more
If you have read any of Kay's other books you won't regret reading this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better Than I Thought it Would Be, 20 Jun. 2012
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This review is from: Ysabel (Hardcover)
This is an odd book to write a review for. The number of people and reviews that refer to it as the weakest of Kay's books, or not as good as his other work was almost universal, so I went in not expecting anything stellar, although it needs to be said that even a bad Kay book is going to be better than the majority of other fantasy on the market.

Maybe it is because it took me so long to read it (over 2 months!)but I really enjoyed it, a lot, lot more than I thought I would have done.

The story is that of a young man working in the south of France with his father. But he is drawn into a conflict between two men; not just any men though but two men who have been born time and again over thousands of years, each time to fight one another for the love of an equally ancient woman.

The story is entwined with ancient history and Celtic mythology, a mystery that needs to be solved, and one that becomes more intense as a friend is drawn into it, apparently lost to the world.

In many ways it is very different to all of Kay's other work; most of that is based in fantasy world; worlds that have strong connotations to the real world, drawing on genuine historical situations and twisting them into a slightly different, warped image of what was.

This works in a different way, taking the real world and twisting it slightly, and that is what might make it the least popular of Kay's works.

However, maybe it is being force to linger on it that made me enjoy it more, or perhaps it was just something in the story that appalled to me, but I thought it was up there with the best of Kay.

Perhaps one of the strongest parts of the story, the most important is the fact the novel is a sequel in many ways to Kay's first major work The Fiovanar Tapestry.

Characters from that book appear and some of what happened there is explained in a different light, strengthening what has gone before but more importantly they give the impression of time moving on, that characters that appeared in a book that was read years ago have grown up and changed, whilst holding on to those very events that changed them so much.

Not Kay's best? Probably not, but certainly not his worst
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A let down compared to other GGK novels, 1 Jan. 2008
By 
Marko K. Susimetsa (Finland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ysabel (Paperback)
I've grown accustomed to picking up a GGK novel and being transported to a fantasy world beyond comparison. Tigana, Al-Rassan etc. do this to you and make you want to re-read those novels time and time again even if you have a pile of unread books waiting their turn from other authors. Unfortunately, Ysabel falls short of Kay's usual excellence with a mediocre, even light plot, shallow characters and way too detailed and travel-book like descriptions of the area of Provence. It seems as if GGK paid as much attention to writing his book as his main protagonist pays on writing his school essays... Perhaps Provence was _too_ beautiful?

In some sense, Ysabel is clearly targeted towards a younger audience than GGK's other works. Perhaps he also wrote this more to his own kids than to his usual grown-up fans?
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4.0 out of 5 stars She is worth it, always and forever, 30 May 2014
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This review is from: Ysabel (Paperback)
Guy Gavriel Kay was born in Canada in 1954 and writes fantasy fiction. “The Summer Tree” – his debut novel and the first in his Fionavar Tapestry trilogy - was first published in 1984. “Ysabel” is his tenth novel, and was first published in January 2007. It was nominated for the White Pine Award and won the 2008 World Fantasy Award in the Novel category.

Ned Marriner is fifteen years old and – thanks to his dad – his school year has finished a little early. Ned’s father, Edward, is an internationally renowned photographer and has brought Ned with him to Aix-en-Provence for six weeks, while he works on an assignment. (Ned’s mother works with Médecins sans Frontières and is currently in the Sudan; Aix was clearly the safer option).

The first day of the shoot sees Edward and his team focus on Aix’s very historic Saint-Sauveur Cathedral. Despite being very popular with the tourists, the cathedral has been sealed off for the shoot – which should have allowed Ned to explore inside by himself. However, when he enters, he meets Kate Wenger, an exchange student from New York and a self-confessed geek. The pair are then startled by a man, crawling up through a grate in the floor of the baptistery. The stranger, who won’t share his name, is a threatening-looking individual who warns them to give him a wide berth. He also, however, says just enough for the teenagers to get interested – and when Ned discovers he can sense the man’s presence, he just can’t back off. Ned and Kate are then drawn into a dangerous, supernatural tale of Romans and Celts.

I picked up “Ysabel” largely because of its location – I’m due to visit Aix this summer while on holiday. I did enjoy the book, and it’s added a few places to my must-see list...but I can’t ever see anyone referring to it as ‘literature’. Kate in particular was a very likeable character, though Ned himself can be a bit of a nuisance at times. (His taste in music is also a little jumbled –he claims to be a fan of both the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin, and yet also has Coldplay on his iPod. He even manages to refer to their music as “rock” at one point). Good fun overall though; it’s more geared towards the teen-fantasy market, though it’s also worth reading if you’re travelling to Aix.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A real disappointment, 12 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Ysabel (Paperback)
I cannot belive that this is from the same author as 'Tigana' and 'Under Heaven'. Those books (and the others I have read .... Sarantium, Fionavar and Al Rassan) have depth and breadth and force you to engage in a real way with the characters. Ysabel was shallow, pointless and written for a trash teen market. The characters were 1 dimensional and lacked anyting that enabled you to care about them let alone engage with them. If you like GGK, then leave this one on the shelf.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Sorry, but bored me, 28 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: Ysabel (Paperback)
Bought this on the recommendation of a friend (who doesn't usually like books with a supernatural element but who does enjoy science fiction, if that has any bearing on the issue). I do sometimes enjoy a well-written 'displaced time' story, but in this case couldn't suspend my disbelief. I felt no empathy with any of the characters - wasn't moved to care about what happened to them - and in fact found the main character slightly unlikable if anything. Don't often give up on a book, but (over half way through) I have little curiosity about the outcome and keep on putting off trying to finish it - and probably won't.
So, obviously appeals to some people but not to me. Perhaps the problem is that I'm more interested in character interaction and motivation than in the mechanics of keeping a fantasy story going.
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Ysabel
Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay (Paperback - 29 April 2010)
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