Guy Gavriel Kay's Ysabel is a departure of sorts for the Canadian author renowned for his historical fantasies (The Lions of Al-Rassan, The Last Light of the Sun, et al.). This is a contemporary fantasy set in the Provence region of France that chronicles the adventures of a 15-year-old boy who, while accompanying his famous photographer father on a six-week shoot of an ancient cathedral in Aix-en-Provence, stumbles into a millennia-old conflict involving the spirits of a Celtic warrior and a Roman trader who are in love with the same woman. Even death cannot end the love the two men feel for her: Year after year, decade after decade, century after century, the supernatural battle continues (replete with druids, ghostly boars and wolves, etc.) until young Ned Marriner unknowingly becomes involved and, in the process, uncovers jaw-dropping secrets concerning the bloody history of Provence, his extended family -- and himself.
Unlike the Celtic priests referenced in Ysabel, readers will not have to make sense of bird entrails or interpret oracular pigs to know that Kay's latest novel is an utterly readable storytelling tour de force. Ysabel is as meticulously researched and richly detailed as any (and all) of Kay's works, but longtime fans may be a bit surprised by the decidedly adolescent narrative voice and unusually straightforward plotlines in this book. Featuring a typical, hormonal 15-year-old boy as the novel's protagonist (equipped with iPod, cell phone, sarcastic attitude, etc.), Kay's first full-fledged contemporary fantasy should, however, broaden his readership immensely. Blending historical fantasy and psychological thriller with a paranormal-powered coming-of-age tale, Ysabel will not only appeal to adult fantasy readers but also to adolescents who have enjoyed authors that feature compelling teen protagonists -- such as J. K. Rowling and Christopher Paolini. Paul Goat Allen