Fifteen-year-old Ned Marriner should be having an excellent
time. He has left school early for the year to spend a month in
France with his famous photographer father and, shortly after his
arrival, meets a cute American girl named Kate. Unfortunately, the
two see a mysterious and frightening man in a dark and ancient
church who admits he has killed children in the past. They are
shaken by the encounter and hope never to see him again. However,
this is just the beginning of a whirlwind dangerous adventure in
which the France of today and the France of 2,500 years ago
In YSABEL, Ned must lead a handful of people in the rescue of a
friend who magically has been taken over by the spirit of a
powerful woman who first lived over two millenniums ago. Ysabel, as
she is called in this incarnation, has revealed herself on Beltane
to the two men who have loved her and fought over her for
centuries. One is a Celtic chieftain and the other a Roman, and the
story of these three is somehow connected to Ned and his mother's
family. Ned must unravel the history of the confrontation between
the ancient Celts and the ancient Romans in Provence, and also
navigate his own family's history, especially the reason why his
mother and his aunt have not spoken for over 20 years. All the
while, Ned must remember that the life of a friend, and perhaps his
own as well, is at stake.
Guy Gavriel Kay blends historical fiction with fantasy in this
readable and fun novel. It is tense but not scary, and
dramatic without being overwrought. YSABEL captures what is best
about both winter fireside tales and summer beach reads. Kay is
able to write about bloody ancient battles, druids, shape-shifting,
family secrets, undying love and teenage attraction all in one book
without sounding silly (or overly serious).
Ned Marriner is reminiscent of Jack Sawyer from THE TALISMAN by
Stephen King and Peter Straub, or other young characters in fantasy
and horror novels who discover they have latent supernatural powers
or a mystical task or journey to accomplish. Ned is likable and
humble and, as expected from the premise, quite mature and composed
for a boy his age. Critics have already commented that the book
often reads like a young adult novel, which is not off the mark.
Still, there is much for grown-up readers to enjoy here as
A couple of central mysteries in the story are never explained,
which will make some readers happy and others frustrated. Fans of
Kay will find references to some of his earlier books --- and while
these references may not be caught by readers new to his work, they
will add to the story for those who get them.
Despite a rather abrupt ending and some parts of the story that are
a bit unclear, YSABEL is recommendable if not wholly memorable.
Kay's sharp dialogue and graceful writing, in addition to a new
twist on the classic love triangle plot, makes this a stand-out
novel that, above all, is fun to read.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 24, 2011