This page contains reviews from the following in order:
- The Agony Column,
- Alternative Reality Web Zine,
- The Globe and Mail,
- Orson Scott Card’s Web Zine,
- Blog Critics,
- Fantasy & Science Fiction
From Fantasy to Slipstream
Review by Rick Kleffel for the Agony Column. Reproduced with kind permission.
There are a lot of very talented writers who have worked for many years in the fantasy genre, toiling away for a fairly large and generally appreciative audience of genre fiction readers. To my mind, most of these writers – those who are not on the bestseller lists with their fantasies — are better than most writers who are on the bestseller lists with their mainstream literary and especially historical fiction. There’s a level of detail that is required to even get in the gate of the fantasy world that I think is a perfect way for writers to hone their skills to a razor sharpness.
One of our sharpest fantasists, Guy Gavriel Kay, (The Last Light of the Sun) is making the cut to mainstream fiction, but in honor of his fantasy past, we’ll call it slipstream, so as not to alienate his current readers. His new novel Ysabel (Roc / Penguin Putnam ; February 6, 2006 ; $24.95) is the kind of book I have been hoping to see from this talented writer. It offers him the chance to create a work that is utterly, immediately accessible to a much wider audience than he might normally reach. Encompassing current day thriller, current day romance and current day horror, with enough of a historical infusion to bring his talents in this realm to life, Ysabel seems ideally suited to spread to a wider-than-genre audience. Now, one never knows if this will happen, but at least a book like this suggests that it can happen. But really, that’s all beside the point. This contemporary novel with overtones of the fantastic from a fantasy writer would be on my short list in any event.
The real question for Ysabel is pretty familiar. Where will it be shelved? The premise offers it the opportunity, at least to be put right alongside mainstream fiction novels. ‘Ysabel’ unfolds as Ned Marriner, in France with his father, explores the Saint-Sauveur Cathedral in Aix-en-Provence. Like many a fictional guy on vacation in Europe, he meets a girl. (Actual guys on vacation in Europe hoping to meet girls are more likely to meet bedbugs.) Ned and Kate explore the ruins and find themselves face to face with an odd-looking gent carrying a knife, and before you can say ‘Mythago Wood’, they’re embroiled in a legend that is playing out in a place where the deep past and the wounded present collide. It’s not uncommon that conflicts from the past play out in the present, it is the nature of all wars to repeat themselves; old battles with new flags. But romantic conflicts don’t have that kind of open history of repeating. Nor do they generally involve the invasion of the present by the past.
What makes Ysabel so exciting to me is that it gives Kay a chance to deploy his considerable world-building chops in the service of building a vision of our world infected by the past. Of course, our world is already infected by the past, but not quite in the fantastic manner that Kay depicts here. His deep knowledge of how history creates societies and societies create individuals gets put on a stage and in a novel that any reader might pick up and enjoy. Not that any reader wouldn’t probably enjoy one of his fantasies, but they’re shelved, over there with the books that got elves on ’em. With luck, we’ll see bookstores shelving ‘Ysabel’ next to titles by Dean Koontz and Stephen King. It bears more than a passing resemblance to titles by both of these authors, though the intent here is not to scare the reader but rather to enchant with possibility. As for me, I’m just enchanted that Kay decided to move in this direction. I’m pretty certain his sizable fantasy fan base will follow, and those who read this column should both be aware that his novel may not get ghetto-ized and be happy that it may not get ghetto-ized. They ain’t no sissy elves in this book. Just, well, if not manly men, at least guys who wear blue jeans. Guys who might buy a book like ‘Ysabel’, not because it is or is not of some genre or fits some pre-conceived notion of what a book should be. Guys and gals for that matter, who would buy this book because it looks to be well-written, tinged with imagination. A book you can read and get lost in.
Interleaving reality and fantasy
Review by S.K. Slevinski for the Alternative Reality Web Zine. Reproduced with kind permission.
Ysabel is, at once, not what fans are accustomed to seeing from Kay, and yet everything that devoted readers have come to expect. Magic, modernity and truly compelling character conflict make this novel the first must-read of 2007 for anyone who loves to get lost in literature.
Main character Ned Marriner has accompanied his father on a photo shoot in the south of France. It’s a mildly-educational excuse to get some time away from school, and a chance for Ned to see the world, even with an iPod ringing in his ears. But lurking in the back of his mind is an uncomfortable truth-Ned and his father spend their days in relative safety, waiting for evening phone calls from Ned’s mother, who is stationed in a war zone for Doctors Without Borders. Ned’s task of keeping himself distracted is helped along after meeting Kate, a well-spoken and unapologetic self-professed “geek”, an American student on an exchange program in France. Their friendship is quickly cemented by a peculiar encounter in the church where Ned’s father’s photography crew is shooting-they happen upon a man in the ancient layers of church cellars who doesn’t seem to “fit” in their time period. As Ned and Kate attempt to unravel the mystery of this encounter, Ned comes to realize that he has been affected more deeply by the experience than he first thought-unexpected sensory powers are awakened in him, surfacing in particular locales in increasing intensity. When, finally, Ned is contacted by his mother’s estranged sister, he discovers that the strange happenings may be part of a family legacy.
This novel gives Guy Gavriel Kay a chance to show his talent for a variety of writing styles, carrying readers swiftly along with an economical modern style, delving into patches of beautifully wrought prose worthy of any of his historical fantasies, and finally braiding the two styles together when needed. It is partly in this way that he balances the modern and magical/historical sequences in this book, both where they coalesce and where one intrudes upon the other. In many ways, this is a novel of contrast, but Kay makes it equally a novel of continuity. The backbone of this story is its main character’s conflicts. It is Ned, the choices he makes and the people he cares about that drive this novel. Kay does an excellent job of keeping Ned’s motivations “on the page” even when their presence is implicit. The highlight of this novel is Ned’s labor of love for a person he never expected to care about.
With Ysabel, Kay strengthens his canon of literary fantasy, but with the same stroke, opens the door to readers who might otherwise have been reluctant to try fantasy. The real world, modern day milieu and characters are a perfect vehicle for transporting the uninitiated into the imagination of fantasy. While this approach has certainly seen a fair bit of use-Kay’s Fionavar has been among those to travel this road before-Ysabel renders it with the fresh perspective of a unique character.
It’s swell, Ysabel, swell
Toronto writer Guy Gavriel Kay has hewn a unique path over the course of his writing career, defying easy categorization and segregation.
Kay made his debut, and secured his reputation, in the early 1980s with the traditional (and impressive) high fantasy and alternative worlds of The Fionavar Tapestry. (By the way, now is a perfect time to reread Tapestry. And if you haven’t read it, I envy you the experience.) He has spent the 20 years since the conclusion of that trilogy, however, in simultaneous defiance and embracing of the tropes and techniques of the fantasy genre. Each subsequent work, it seems, has contained less and less of what many readers would consider the fantastic. In these novels, rooted in the historic (although “alternative historic” might be a more accurate term), magic itself has become a rarity. At the same time, however, Kay has continued to write with narrative approaches that typify fantasy, with outsize characters, bold gestures and grand storytelling. Although the lack of the fantastic would seem to preclude the inclusion of his later books on the fantasy shelves, his sense of honour and of heroism, the timelessness and mythic resonances of his stories, makes it impossible to consider shelving them anywhere else.
At first glance, Ysabel seems to be something of a departure for Kay. Rather than rooting the novel in a revision of a particular historical period, the new novel is set in contemporary Provence — where Kay recently spent time living with his family, and where the book was written. Fifteen-year-old Ned Marriner is a fairly typical teenager. Accompanying his celebrated photographer father and his crew on a six-week shoot in France, Ned’s main concerns are with savouring the French experience, getting his assignments done for school back home, and worrying about his mother, a physician working with Doctors without Borders in the Sudan. This being a Kay novel, all of that soon changes.
While exploring the Saint-Sauveur Cathedral in Aix-en-Provence, Ned meets a pretty young woman named Kate and a mysterious man with a knife.
From these seemingly accidental meetings, Ned is drawn into a world in which there are no coincidences, in which a love story that has played across a backdrop of thousands of years takes life in the modern world, bringing with it a legacy of bloodshed, death and magic. Ysabel gains impetus and force from the blood-soaked soil of Provence itself. With its Celtic and Roman histories and mythologies, the region is fertile ground for the style of mythic storytelling that readers associate with Kay, and the land almost becomes a character in its own right. In Kay’s hands, the tourist-friendly veneer is lifted away, revealing hills that run red with blood and memory, ruins that form the backdrop for ritual bonfires on Beltaine, and caves that sing of a love story that must play itself out, generation after generation.
With this sort of fantasy writing, it is essential to establish a level of verisimilitude, a foundation of reality from which the reader is comfortable departing. Kay achieves this with a deftness of characterization and context for the main characters.
Ned is well-drawn and realistic, with enough hints at subterranean depths that Kay is able to avoid becoming mired in the hormonally earthy realities of a 15-year-old boy’s inner world. His relationships with his father and the members of the photo crew ring true, with shifting levels of comfort and candour. The family dynamics are intricate, threaded through with worry and love.
The reality of the relationships is important, not just for the fantastic elements of the novel, but for later developments on a more personal plane. The arrival of Ned’s aunt — his mother’s estranged sister — and her husband partway through the book could have completely derailed the narrative, but the complex reality of the family relationships allows for their absorption into the storyline. (That being said, their arrival is breathtaking on several levels, none of which it would be right to discuss here.)
Kay is as comfortable, and as skilled, with the complex mythic storylines as he is with the domestic scene-setting. There is a breathless realism to his handling of the story of the love triangle between Ysabel, Phelan and Cadell that has lingered for hundreds of years, an immediacy that should be at odds with the seeming predestination of the age-old relationship, but isn’t. This is, after all, not merely another iteration of a love and a tragic loss: For Ned and his community, struggling to save one of their own, this is the iteration of that story, the one in which everything might, and must, change.
Of course, the same could be said of every iteration of this story, and it is in the realization of this fact that Kay is at his finest. His approach to this sort of mythic storytelling, whether here or in The Fionavar Tapestry, is so compelling because of his recognition that the reason these stories continue to work, to appeal to readers at a visceral level (rather than as the stuff of mere academic study) is that they are alive in every retelling, in every new generation of storytellers and story-listeners.
The reason stories like those of Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere (in Fionavar) and Cadell, Phelan and Ysabel (in the new novel) continue to so affect readers is not only that they are familiar, but that this very familiarity will be tested in every retelling. The dynamic between knowledge and novelty, between familiarity and freshness, is at the root of the reading experience, and nowhere more so than in the realms of heroism and honour, of love and death. There are many writers who have shown us the gods walking among us, the age-old stories alive in the modern world. Rare are those able to demonstrate that those gods, those stories, live within us, and are as essential to our existence as oxygen. Guy Gavriel Kay is one of those rare few, and Ysabel is a splendid addition to his body of work.
Robert J. Wiersema is a Victoria writer and bookseller. His first novel, Before I Wake, was published last year.
Review by Jeremy Jose Orbe-Smith for Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show website. Reproduced with kind permission.
Come to think of it, if I saw a vision of an entire mountainside soaked in the blood of two hundred thousand people, I’d be a little nauseous too.
For Ned Marriner, however, it’s just one of many signals that he’s stepped into the middle of a recurring, centuries-spanning, semi-reincarnation of a love triangle — one that usually ends in a rather lot of killing.
Kay is known for such sprawling epic fantasy series as the Fionavar Tapestry and the Sarantine Mosaic; with Ysabel, he scales way down and brings us to the present day.
We meet Ned, an endearing fifteen-year-old track and cross-country runner, in France with his father, a famous Canadian photographer. When he wanders away from a photoshoot in the middle of an ancient cathedral, he quickly meets Kate, an American exchange student. Even as they become fast friends, they come upon a mysterious man . . . crawling out of a hole in the ground. Not a particularly comfortable sight in itself, the appearance of an ancient knife certainly doesn’t give much hope for a happy ending.
This stranger, who turns out to be neither benign nor quite malevolent, is actually one of two warriors battling for the love of Ysabel, a spirit who will take possession of the body of an unlucky woman on the eve of Beltaine. This is the night when the Celts believed that the gates between the living and the dead were open after the sunset, and she will give herself to whichever man is abl
e to track her down at the end of three days. Their story has been played and replayed over and over again as the centuries roll on, with the only difference being which man is able to find her first.
Unfortunately, Ned’s father’s assistant Melanie is the unlucky woman chosen to be the surrogate. This is as painful for us readers as it is for the characters, because before she is enslaved in her own body, she is made endearingly, heartbreakingly real. When she is lost, we are too; we grieve for her even as she sets off the race between Ned’s family and the two warriors, all of them struggling to locate “Ysabel” while keeping the other “teams” ignorant of their attempts.
An entire bookcase full of artsy and angsty introspection couldn’t compete with the amount of character revealed in five pages of Kay’s tightly-written ensemble sections. As we work with Ned’s family and friends through the clues surrounding Ysabel’s disappearance, we gradually learn how Celtic and Roman history is still shaping the forces at work around the characters. Indeed, Ned even begins to acquire ancient powers, so that he is able to see visions from the past such as the one of the blood-soaked mountain. Kay makes even the history lessons both relevant and surprisingly entertaining, and the past weaves with the present until they’re so entwined that we’re hardly aware of where one leaves off and the other begins.
This is no Dan Brown mockery of depth; Kay is the real deal, interposing the bones of a relatively simple historical thriller with both an epic romance and a wrenching family drama. Ned unearths the long-denied connection his family has to the locale and the three resurrected spirits, and in the process simultaneously sets his mother and aunt on the pathway to reconciliation. The inevitable romance between him and Kate is also made fresh with the details of how their personalities connect and fulfil each other — and thankfully, they actually behave like the awkwardly chaste adolescents they are, rather than the usual mini-adults that populate these sorts of stories.
In fact, that might be the greatest strength of this very strong book; Kay is able to make the experience of the modern day teens, in all their hormonal, Ipod-enhanced youth, as equally compelling as the fantastic elements that crash around them. I also especially liked the fact that Ned’s parents were both important and deeply real — deeply good — characters, a relative rarity in this genre. The story is as much about them as it is about Ned’s maturation from naive youth to thoughtful young man aware of his place in history.
In other words, read this book the first time to race to the end and see how all the strings of the past come together in a powerful climax.
Reread it in order to revel in the depth of the deceptively-simple characterizations Kay gives us with the utter clarity of his prose.
Review by Richard Marcus for Blog Critics
Reproduced with kind permission.
Provence is the sun-kissed paradise of the south of France. Cookbook and travelogue writers have made a killing from writing about it, or even better, getting their own television show set in its environs. Its charms haven’t been lost on some of the great painters either, as both Van Gogh and Cézanne created some their best-known masterpieces in the region.
Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising to discover that it also saw some of the ancient world’s bloodiest wars and clashes. Dating back to pre-empire Rome’s earliest settlements outside of Italy, the conflicts between so-called barbaric Celts and civilized Romans left the earth soaked in blood and memories. In the years since those earliest times, other battles and other peoples have come and gone, raised monuments to their faiths, and finally established permanent residency here among the olive groves of the Romans. The only invaders they need worry about now are the tourists who come to view the ruins and relics of people whose lives have all but vanished into the mists of time.
Ned Marriner is not a regular tourist on a two-week tour. He’s accompanying his father, a world-renowned photographer, on his latest coffee table book shoot. At 15 he’s more grateful for the fact that he’s been pulled out of school a month or so early in order to make the trip then anything else, but the cool remoteness he strives for is sorely tested almost immediately upon arrival.
His father’s first day of shooting is at the Cathedral in Aix en Provence and Ned wanders off into the interior of the chapel while his father and his crew set up. While resting in a nave he is surprised by Kate Wenger, a girl his own age studying in France on a student exchange program. Their conversation is interrupted by the sound of a metal grill being clanged into place, and while investigating the sound, they enter into a story older than the Cathedral itself.
The innocuous, everyday occurrence of two awkwardly cool teenagers of the opposite sex meeting for the first time is the unlikely herald for subsequent events, but in the world of Guy Gavriel Kay’s newest novel Ysabel, nothing can be considered normal. Ned and Kate’s world of iPod Shuffles, mobile phones, and “Google is my midnight lover” is on a collision course with a love triangle that predates Christ.
The bald man with the knife that the two surprise leaving the underground passage of the church not only turns out not to be your average run-of-the-mill tomb raider, their meeting triggers within Ned an awareness that begins to dissolve the barriers between him and another plane of existence.
At first it only manifests itself as an unexplained ability to know when the bald man is nearby, and to have access to information he shouldn’t know. But gradually he becomes more and more in tune with the other two parts of the triangle and the endless sorrow that has been theirs to play for millennia.
For those of you familiar with Kay’s earlier work, you’ll notice some big differences between this book and pretty much anything that he’s written before. First there’s the fact that it is set primarily in our world. Only once before has our world ever entered into his books, and then only to set the stage for what was to come.
He’s never, that I recall, given one character’s viewpoint this much focus before. There have been central characters that we’ve followed around, but there have also been other perspectives of events aside from theirs that have coloured the narrative. Not only does he not do that in Ysabel, he’s also made the world so that is seen through the eyes of a 15-year-old male.
This is a decidedly risky thing to do, because it would be very easy to take a wrong step and jar the reader’s ear. But Kay knows what he’s doing and doesn’t slip once in his creation of the character. Ned’s reactions to circumstances are spot-on and Kay has captured that bizarre mixture of bravado and fear that characterizes so many teenage males.
What makes this odd choice for a lead character work so well in this book is the contrast Kay is able to construct using a young person from today who takes things like text messaging, computers and digital cameras for granted. To have him be forced to deal with the spirit world, particularly the spirit world that our lovers come from, both increases the tension caused by such circumstances and makes the confusion felt by the character become more than just that of trying to sort out two worlds.
There’s a point in the book when one of the spirit characters comments that a 15-year-old would have been considered a man in his time, that he could have been married and had children or even be a war leader for his tribe. In our world the same person spends the majority of his or her time rejecting responsibility while wondering why nobody takes him seriously.
As the story progresses and Ned gets drawn further and further into events, the level of his responsibi
lity increases to the point where he is the only one who is able to accomplish what needs to be done. Being cool becomes far less important as the stakes rise, until they include the fight for the survival of one of his dad’s assistants. You learn a lot about yourself and your inner resources when a person’s survival is dependent on your abilities.
In spite of Ned and Kate’s ages, this is not a book that would only interest young men and women. Ned’s character and the story line are developed so well that it should appeal to most people. Remember this is a fantasy story, so suspension of disbelief forms a good part of the requirement for reading it anyway, so no matter what your own beliefs are about “teenage novels” they shouldn’t be relevant in these circumstances.
As is usual for a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, the research is impeccable and historic details fascinating and seamlessly woven into the unfolding mystery. That Kay has front-loaded the answers to the character’s questions make it all the more interesting. I was too immersed in the story to bother with searching for the historic clues that would solve the riddle, but if you wanted to, you could.
Best of all as far as I’m concerned is Kay’s unselfconsciousness when it comes to writing about love and what people can be driven to do by and for it. He displays his characteristic ability in these situations to make what could be sentimental tripe moments of resplendent beauty. Combined with his matter-of-fact attitude towards the spirit world – it exists to be written about, doesn’t it? – and obvious love of the subject matter, this makes Ysabel one of his best works yet. It’s as if, like his character Ned, Kay has stepped over an invisible line and taken full responsibility for the emotions and feelings of his characters.
He exerts a tighter control than usual on their development so that none of the types who have appeared in the past show up again. By coming back to the world that he lives in, instead of writing about the past, Kay seems to have found a balance for previous extravagances. His work is far better, and more believable for it.
Review by Colleen Mondor for Bookslut
Reproduced with kind permission.
With Ysabel, author Guy Gavriel Kay takes one of those “wrong place at the wrong time” (depending on how you look at the resulting adventure) stories and turns it on its head. By the time you reach the final page he has so wrapped up this adventure of teenagers Ned and Kate in France that you will want to return to the beginning and rediscover just how he makes the whole book work so seamlessly. This modern day thriller relies heavily upon actions from centuries before. It is very nearly epic in its scope (one of the main characters is Julius Caeser’s real uncle) but conveys its historic significance by keeping the narrative personal. And at its heart is Ned, who can’t let go of the mystery that unfolds one day at a French cathedral.
Ned is accompanying his world famous photographer father as he conducts several shoots in Provence. His mother is a doctor currently doing aide work in Sudan, something that bothers father and son tremendously although they are doing their best to be supportive. Ned and his father are close in a charming but not false manner and his father’s three assistants quickly develop personalities and quirks of their own that prevents them from sinking into secondary character oblivion. Ned meets Kate at a church his father is shooting and the two quickly bond when they find themselves in a threatening situation with a man who appears to be a thief. The stranger makes several comments that hint at a larger intrigue and Ned finds himself unable to let go of the meeting or the odd things the two young people seem to discover after it is over. He and Kate continue to pull away at the threads of the mystery man’s story. Relatively quickly they find events overtaking them and Ned in particular finds himself suffering both physically and psychologically from the initial meeting. Something is happening, something huge, and Ned and Kate seem to be right at the center of it.
In short order Ned’s long estranged maternal aunt appears in the nick of time, he finds himself becoming violently ill and the little bits and pieces of the region’s history that have been gathered to assist his father’s work seem to be suggesting that the contemporary weirdness is likely part of some age old tragedy. When Kate’s behavior becomes odd and Ned finds himself on a hilltop observing a druidic sacrificial ceremony he knows that his life has taken the sort of turn that walking away is not going to solve. Ned has to take charge to save a friend, mend a family and find a solution to an epic historic nightmare. The best part is that it all makes sense and readers are never forced to swallow sudden revelations or perfectly timed coincidences.
One of the things I liked best about Ysabel, other than the fact that it makes a story about Celtic and Roman history both timely and exciting, is that Ned’s family and friends are so real. This is not a kid who decides to go it alone — he actually turns to his intelligent parent and lays it all out when he knows he is in over his head. Everyone does not come together brilliantly at first and there is certainly more than a few moments when someone is thinking Ned and Kate are crazy. But they don’t dismiss their admittedly bizarre story just because they are teenagers — they respect them enough to listen and consider that it all might be true. How wonderful to see in a story and it’s even better when the adults act like smart people who manage to be both skeptical and supportive at the same time. This is a group that comes together in fine fashion and makes the book that much more of an enjoyable read.
Ysabel is easily one of the best books I have read in years and I’m delighted to recommend it to teens and adults. (It is published as an adult title but the teen protagonists make it a no-brainer for high schoolers and homeschoolers in particular should flock to this one for the great historic content.) It’s great for boys or girls, history lovers or thrill seekers.
Musing on Books
Review by Michelle West for Fantasy & Science Fiction
Guy Gavriel Kay has spent so much of his writing life examining history and returning it to his readers, in fantasies designed to draw out and examine key themes, that this book seems like a departure: It’s set in contemporary Provence, with contemporary characters, in particular the well-known, award-winning photographer Edward Marriner and his team of assistants: the terrifyingly well-organized Melanie, and the very bright and rather funny Steve and Greg. They have come together to capture some essential part of Provence’s history for a new book.
Edward’s son, Ned, is at the upper end of adolescence, and has come along for the ride, bringing with him cell phones, iPods, and a bit of attitude. His mother, Meghan, is away in the Sudan, taking her medical expertise to people who are far from able to afford it, and very much in need of it.
While scouting one of the more unusual buildings in Provence for possible shooting locations for his father, Ned has the good fortune to meet Kate, a girl his age-and he has the questionable fortune to meet a man who is a good deal older and a lot less friendly. Both of these people have parts to play, because while Ned is casually glancing at the accumulation of hundreds of years of history in the Saint-Sauveur Cathedral, history of a type is looking back at him.
And it starts with a bald, lithe stranger, and a statue of the Queen of Sheba. The stranger, Phelan, because he slipped unseen past two chatty teenagers into the depths of the tunnels beneath the Cathedral, and the Queen of Sheba because when Ned sees her, he knows she’s not the Queen of Sheba, tourist guides notwithstanding. H
ere is Kay’s description of the statue, through Ned’s eyes:
She had been made this way, barely carved into the stone, the features less sharply defined, meant to fade, to leave, like something lost from the beginning.
The paragraph is significant because, in many ways, it encapsulates my experience of reading Kay’s work-that the sense of loss experienced when his world slips away, and his tale is told, will be profound, but the beauty of the experience is worth that loss, is perhaps more intense because it’s coming.
There’s a chattiness and a friendliness to this book that’s immediately accessible (for instance, Ned does something very funny with ringtones), but as Kay introduces a second strange man into Ned’s life-Cadell, a man in almost all ways different from the first-there is also a growing sense of old magic and old stories, both unfinished.
Phelan and Cadell are hunting in the depths of history for sight of Ysabel, the woman they both love, and have loved, for many lifetimes. To both of them, Ned isn’t and shouldn’t be part of the story-but when Ned calls Greg for an emergency ride, and Melanie shows up instead, all of the expedition finds itself thrown into the chaos of a love triangle that has been reborn, time and again, starting and ending in reunion and in loss.
Guy Gavriel Kay has always played along the edges of memory, elegy, and romantic love. Here, in contemporary Provence, the land remembers what happened; the light remembers. The loss of obvious fantasy tropes doesn’t dim the play of people who are in no way contemporary. History isn’t hidden in the pages of almost mythic fantasy, and it certainly isn’t absent-it’s everywhere Ned walks.
But if there is power in old stories-and there always is-there is power in new stories, as well. In Ned, who slowly works his way toward a dim understanding of what Phelan and Cadell face, crossing their paths time and again in his fumbling attempts to save Melanie before she’s lost to our world, and in the process, providing closure.
Guy Gavriel Kay’s books always move me to tears. This novel is no exception, and I think readers who had some difficulty with The Last Light of the Sun will be happier with Ysabel.