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Reading Log: Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay


Ysabel is the book that The Historian wanted to be. The story is more or less concurrently past and present; in this case it's the story of the Celts and the Romans in Provence. I really enjoyed the book, and since the narrative was written as a story, rather than a series of letters, I didn't have the same mixed feelings about the amount of detail that I did with The Historian.

Ned Marriner's father is a world renowned photogrpaher. They are in France for 3 weeks for a series of photoshoots for Edward's new book. While exploring a cathedral, Ned meets an exchange student from New York, Kate, and the two of them stumble upon a strange man with knives and a scar across his bald head. As Ned follows the strange man's escape path, he begins to sense different things, including the knowledge that the man was the sculptor of a 2 thousand year old skull he finds in the cloister.

After that, Ned and Kate get sucked into a series of events surrounding the Beltaine ritual that has brought the bald, scarred man (the Roman) and a giant Celt together for the past 2,000 years to fight for Ysabel's favor. To complete the summoning, they require not only the Beltaine ceremony, but also a woman, who Ysabel will change into. Kate was supposed to be that woman, but Edward Marriner's aid, Melanie, is accidentally transformed instead. Rather than allowing the Roman and the Celt to fight as they have every other time, Ysabel challenges them to find her; they can neither use magic nor fight each other. Ned knows that he has to find her first in order to get Melanie back.

The whole story involves not only the 3 ancient ones, but also Ned's own family, as his mother is working with Doctors without Borders in war-torn Darfur, and his Aunt Kim, whom he has never met, suddently phones him while he's in France. Turns out there is more to Ned and his family than meets the eye, and he must learn about that while trying to rescue Melanie.

I enjoyed the whole book. It made me think hard enough to not be a completely simple read, but not too hard so as to kill the pleasure. And it turns out that the research is more or less accurate, too, or at least as accurate as a simple Google search provides. I didn't ever realize tha the Celts were in France, so I even learned something new.


I'm a big fan of Guy Gavriel Kay, though I haven't read Ysabel (yet!) If you haven't read his other books, you might enjoy them as well. The Sarantine Mosaic duology basically retells the story of a fictional version of Justinian and Theodora, told from the point of view of a mosaicist.
Good stuff.