I finally picked it up a couple of weeks ago without really knowing anything about Guy Gavriel Kay. When I realized that the main character, Ned Marriner, is Canadian, I did a little research (some of us who work in libraries do love Google, you know), and lo and behold, I discovered that Guy Gavriel Kay is also Canadian and I had my title* for this One Shot.
Over the course of my (very, very brief) research, I discovered that there are a plethora of fantasy authors from Canada -- and my TBR list got much, much longer. (I've been meaning to read Spider Robinson for a bazillion years, and definitely more William Gibson, but I didn't know that they were Canadian. Joel Rosenberg, too -- Guardians of the Flame, here I come again! I hope you stand up to my middle school adoration, but I'm kind of afraid that you won't!)
So. Yes. Back to Ysabel.
15-year-old Ned Marriner is in France. He's not technically on vacation (he has loads of schoolwork with him, though he's very good at avoiding it), but is accompanying his world-famous photographer father (and his world-famous father's assistants) on a shoot. His mother is in Sudan with Doctors Without Borders.
While at the Saint-Sauveur Cathedral at Aix-en-Provence, Ned meets Kate Wegner, an American exchange student and a self-professed geek. Her knowledge of the region's history (and lots of other things -- I took to her immediately, of course) rivals even that of Melanie, Ned's father's personal assistant. And believe me, that's saying something.
It would have been, in every possible way, wiser to ignore that noise, to go see the pretty cloister, walk out that way afterwards, into the morning streets of Aix. Get a croissant and a Coke somewhere with this girl named Kate.
His mother, however, was in the Sudan, having flown far away from them, again, to the heart of an insanely dangerous place. Ned came from courage--and from something else, though he didn't know that part yet.
Did that "something else" hook you? It sure got me.
In not ignoring that noise, Ned stumbles into a story much larger and much older than anything he can really imagine. I wrote briefly about Ysabel when I finished it last week, and it has continued to stay with me -- less the question of whether or not it is YA (Because really, does it matter all that much?) and more the sense of history I got from it.
Not just the history of the region, which Guy Gavriel Kay clearly researched at length (and bless him, he actually provided a list of books in his Acknowledgments section -- I love it when authors do that), but the larger idea of history repeating itself, of us letting history repeat itself (and causing it to repeat itself), even though we can see the same things happening, again and again, even if they are a bit different each time.
It's an adventure, a book about friendship and love and loyalty, family and history (both recent and ancient) and it makes it clear that for those involved, 20 years can be just as devastating and huge and endless as 2600 years. It's a fantasy novel, but one that many people who don't usually read fantasy will enjoy. I'm planning to hand it to adult and teen fans of The Dark is Rising series, not just because of the Celtic mythology, but because Ned Marriner and Will Stanton both experience that terrifying and exhilarating feeling of being a part of something much bigger and much older than they are.
Oh, another thing -- when Ned's aunt showed up, she felt to me, even though this was the first book I've read by Kay, like a character I should already knew. So I did a little more research... and discovered that she's a major character in his Fionavar Tapestry.
Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), I ordered the first book immediately.
Full list of other participants over at Chasing Ray. Colleen, by the way, is a rock star and organized all this.