Ysabel, by Guy Gavriel Kay
This is my first GGK and… I really don’t know what to make of it.
I mostly really liked it as I read, although there were some odd narrative quirks – like the omniscient narrator occasionally breaking in with prescient predictions about a character later reflecting on something as the end of childhood – that didn’t seem to have pay-off or point in the narrative. But those things aside I largely enjoyed the story as a whole… until the very end when something very weird and out of place happened that made me feel a bit ick about the whole thing.
Anyway, before that: Ned is in France with his photographer dad; meets another visiting American and has a weird encounter with a dude which then leads to more weird encounters and a progressively weirder journey around bits of France. There’s a love triangle ranging over enormous sweeps of time, eternal enmity, races against the clock, family secrets and family discoveries, and some slightly dubious mashing of history.
In general, I found the story generally enjoyable. I’ve no idea how accurate the geography of France is; apparently it was written while Kay was there, so hopefully there wasn’t too much licence taken? Overall the characters were interesting and plausible enough, and the pacing generally wasn’t too bad. It’s not a book to think too much about, though; the history aspect in particular is a bit silly and there are a few narrative holes that made me shake my head.
Also I hate the title. And I’m a bit bemused about it winning the 2008 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. I don’t recognise the other nominees, but this … seems like an odd choice.
The big thing that irks me, though… (spoiler…)
This is how you lose the time war
Some people I respect were raving about this, and I like both El-Mohtar and Gladstone’s work separately, so I thought I’d give it a go. Bought it on my day off (e-copies really are very useful) and made a start on it.
And then I finished it. In one sitting.
I think it’s a novella… but still. Yes. I inhaled it. It’s brilliant. It’s about time travel and two rival versions of human history.
Why are you still reading? Just go buy it already.
If you’re still reading and you’re not convinced: two very different views of how human history should play out are in competition across time, and across the multiverse – or strands, as our narrators call them, which means that you get all sorts of symbolism along the lines of braids and so on. Very clever; I like it a lot. Our people go upstream and downstream and across strands and they’re always looking to make their version come out on top, and thwart their opponents.
And then Red and Blue start to communicate. And then (I’m sorry) things start to unravel.
The story is fabulous, the ideas are enthralling and rich and wonderful. The characters are always somewhat opaque but honestly that fits so well with what’s going on and with who and what they are, that it was fine.
The one thing that some readers might find off-putting is the language: I saw someone describe it as ‘baroque’ and that’s probably fair; it’s extravagant and ornate and rich and luscious, sometimes whimsical and playful, full of symbolism, and occasionally meandering. I loved it; it’s the sort of prose that will definitely reward re-reading, and a slower read, in order to really mull over the weight of the words.
Straight to my ‘possible Hugos’ list for next year.