Monday, June 25, 2018


by Guy Gavriel Kay
Recommended Ages: 14+

In this companion novel to the "Fionavar Tapestry" trilogy, a 15-year-old Canadian boy named Ned Marriner is visiting the south of France with his famous photographer father when he gets swept up in a 2,600-year-old tale of Celtic magic, passion, jealousy, warfare and death that has played out over and over, down the centuries, costing hundreds of thousands of lives. One moment, he is sitting in the empty cathedral at Aix en Provence, waiting for his dad to finish photographing the facade. The next, he discovers a psychic connection to something ancient, eldritch and dangerous. On one side is a small, scarred man in a leather jacket who admits to having done terrible things. On the other is a tall, powerful, golden-haired man who sometimes, when the fancy takes him, sports a set of antlers, and at other times takes flight as an owl.

Connecting them is a woman of terrible beauty who can only return to the world by way of a Druidic sacrifice on the last night of April, at an mysterious ruin near which Ned and a cute girl from New York happen to be hiding at that time. This time around, she decides to call herself Ysabel, and instead of choosing one of the two men to be her lover (and thereby provoking a blood duel between them), she tells them to search for her. Whichever of them finds her within three days will have her; the other will be sacrificed. Oh, and the catch is - for Ysabel to take shape, she has to absorb a living woman into her. At first, it looks like the girl designated to lose herself in Ysabel will be Kate, the cute New Yorker. At the last moment, that honor falls to Melanie, the assistant to Ned's father, who showed up in the wrong place at the wrong time in response to Ned's call for help. Now, with no one to guide him but a magically experienced aunt who has been estranged from his mother since before he was born, he has to learn a lot about his own powers and try to find Ysabel before either of her two suitors. If he fails, Melanie will be lost forever.

Fans of Fionavar will be thrilled to find out what happens to Kim Ford and Dave Martyniuk 25 years after their exploits in The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire and The Darkest Road. In a way, I think this stand-alone adventure may have an edge over those three books, because it has a single protagonist and a single plot line that, if not exactly simple and straightforward, is at least easier to follow for not being painted into a too large and cluttered canvas. It also reaps rewards from following up on the long-term consequences of having an adventure that spanned multiple worlds. It probes eerie mysteries of early French history, before the Roman Empire was even an empire. It explores a single kernel of ancient legend in all its variegated growth. It packs a powerful emotional impact with fiery romance, anguish, horror, fear and courage all richly on display. It also has some laugh-aloud funny moments. Parental advisories for adult and occult content are very much in order.

This review is based on a CD audiobook performed by Kate Reading, on whom I have a long-standing audio crush. I still associate her voice with my discovery of the best novel ever written (as far as I know), George Eliot's Middlemarch. She also kicked audio butt while reading all of Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series. It has been a while since I've heard her read aloud, but my admiration for her ability to portray a whole cast of characters, male and female, came back quickly and sustained until the end. I think that would be a cool job to have, if I could do it as well as Kate - whose name, by the way, doesn't seem ironic at all, once you hear it pronounced.

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