Sunday, October 05, 2008

"Ysabel" by Guy Gavriel Kay

Why I read it: I gave it to Ed for his birthday last year. Nadine read it recently (I think she's doing a GGK festival, because she borrowed "The Summer Tree" from me a couple of weeks ago and gave it back last week). She's asked me two or three times since if I've read Ysabel yet, I guess so we can discuss it. Still no "Darkmans". It's still "in transit." I don't think that word means what TPL thinks it means.

Tastes like chicken: Tim Wynne-Jones, maybe crossed with "Da Vinci Code" but without the lame-assed puzzles. I'm wondering if he was intending to write a YA book here. I saw this book on a display for the library at the boy's school, but I don't feel like it was marketed to teens. Maybe that's because GGK doesn't have a teen audience really (though I think the Fionavar Tapestry would be great for teens).

Somehow I missed that Kim and Dave were from the Fionavar Tapestry until Nadine pointed it out, not surprising as I read them like 10 years ago.

Bookmark: Hardcover flap.

What I liked: Very readable. I recommended it to the boy, who probably won't read it because he seems to disdain of anyone who likes Alanis Morrissette. Whatever. He didn't seem to remember who U2 were, proving once again that he really is one of the pod people, switched out at some point when I wasn't paying attention.

I liked the use of time, which wasn't necessarily linear. A chapter would start on, say, the morning of day 3, and then go back and think about what happened the night before, mulling over a scene the reader hadn't actually experienced the first time through. It was a nice technique to add some depth and space from the story.

What I hated: The voice didn't seem like a teenager. The story is told, except for a very few scenes, through the eyes of a 15-year-old boy. The beginning had a lot of name-dropping -- Amazon, Led Zeppelin, Google, Alanis Morrissette, iPods, U2... Nadine said she thought it wouldn't date well. I think it's worse -- I think it's extensive research as a substitute for character development. Maybe it works better for historical fantasy. Mercifully, that went away for the most part after the first few chapters.

I would have liked the Ysabel story from history to be more fleshed out. It was alluded to, how it's changed over the millennia, as different Ysabels come and go, but I would have liked to read more of what the different Ysabels did. It was glossed over. Also, I would love to have known more about how the two men competing for her pass their time, other than that one did a lot of sculpture and the other learned to turn himself into an owl. Maybe GGK was trying to make me fill in that information myself.

Also, one of GGK's trademarks, the immediate foreshadow (this is where he starts a section with a "it could have come out so much better" type statement, or "if he'd done something different he would have died..." or "later on, he would think of this as the moment he became a man". Those aren't quotes; they came out of my brain. But that concept) didn't work nearly so well here. I felt like it was trying to make the story seem more mythic, and I didn't feel like Ned had really grown as a character much at all.

I also didn't like the Medecins sans Frontieres tie-in. It seemed unneccessary and gratuitous.

What I can learn: Chapter 7 made no sense when read in sequence between chapters 6 and 8. I mean, it made a little sense, but it didn't add hardly anything to the story. I felt like that day, which would have been, I think, day 3 in France, had more stuff in it originally, but when the editing went along and scenes and sections got moved around, all the meat got removed from the day, and there was almost no point to it. If I had been writing this, I would probably have dropped the day entirely and moved the important conversation between Melanie and Ned to the day before, then made the mom call every day rather than every second day. That's how I would have fixed it. And also, there's a trip to a town that seems like it's just down the street near the beginning of the book, and then seems vastly far away towards the end. That didn't work for me. So, I learned to spend more time with the Excel spreadsheet and maps, and always read my Toothbrush manuscript one more time after I've changed things.

And I can't even make myself read it once through, so I guess I'm doomed. I think I'll go back and read some early GGK to see if I'd misjudged him...


Your EG Tour Guide said...

Hmmm. I don't think I need or want to read this book. Interesting commentary on it though.

Robyn said...

The problem is, I really like GGK, enough that I lent you one of his other books before (Tigana, you never read it, or never gave it back, anyway...) And you should. It's fabulous. This one just isn't as good, in comparison. Like it was written by two people or something.