Last month I found a Guy Gavriel Kay book labeled “science fiction.” The public library mislabeled; it is really a YA effort. Ysabel is a mystery novel with fantasy overtones. After I finished it, I remember reading somewhere that Mr Kay wrote it for his adolescent sons, or with them in mind.
From the first few pages, Ned, the fifteen-year-old Canadian protagonist, finds himself embroiled in a fantasy-tinged mystery and something of a meet cute with an American exchange student in the south of France. The young man is in clearly over his head, but gains assistance from family members and friends who are far more competent and prepared to battle the fantastic than he would have suspected.
The coming-of-age aspect is paired with Ned’s own emerging powers. It’s a tribute to the skill of a veteran novelist that parents believably send their teenage son off to the rescue alone as the book nears its conclusion.
Ysabel is a skilled piece of fiction, and quite enjoyable for age twelve on up. I recommended it to the young miss. That probably means she will never read it, but maybe you will.
Week before last I plowed through a first novel, The Nights of Villjamur. Mark Charan Newton didn’t seem quite sure where to place his effort. It seems set on a pre-industrial planet with a walled city, an imperial court, and lots of horse and sword fighting. On the other hand, there are zombies and passing references to “clones” and “evolution.” The driving premise behind the action here is an impending “ice age” but I wonder how a pre-scientific culture would identify such a thing. Maybe these are all quibbles. There are hints in the book of a gate to an alternate universe, and other things that have the whiff of science fiction. Maybe these get explored in later books in the series.
Mr Newton needed a better editor. There’s more to the job than correcting spelling and grammar. Pace, character development and internal consistency are even more important. What we have is a murder mystery driving the plot for the first two-thirds of the book. But to the reader, it’s transparent. Why wouldn’t a cop with a hundred years’ experience notice it?
Some of the characters were less believable than others. The chief investigator and the captain of the guard were deep, flawed, and intriguing. The female characters were shallow cardboard.
This is a novel that could have been far better by trimming away some of the peripheral characters and really playing up the setting of an imperial city. That city could easily have been like New Crobuzon or the castle of Gormenghast. It’s a common, but effective theme in fantasy to turn the setting into its own character. Mr Newton shows flashes of what-could-have-been, but his writing here was inconsistent. I’ve noticed the later books in the red sun series got better reader reviews. For now, I think I’ll pass.
Last week, I read A. M. Dellamonica’s Indigo Springs. It’s what some would call “urban fantasy,” a setting in the real world, or a world that looks pretty real. Suddenly, fantasy things start happening.
It took me some time to sort out the pattern in this book: mostly alternating present-time and flashbacks. Astrid has magic in her family, and her friend Sahara horns in on the act and becomes something of a super-villain. For a change, it’s the male characters here who are pretty cardboard and the two women leads moderately interesting.
Still looking for really outstanding books.