Guy Gavriel Kay is justifiably renowned for his historical fantasies, but after a family trip to France he has produced what could be a breakout book for him, his first contemporary fantasy in many years, Ysabel. Ned, 15-year-old son of famous photographer Edward Marriner, is simultaneously bored and excited to be accompanying his father to Provence for a six-week photo shoot. Ned is a lively, prickly character always ready to speak his mind or to sulk if that will keep the adults around him off-balance. Within a day of arriving in Aix-en-Provence (where his father is going to shoot Saint-Sauveur Cathedral), Ned meets Kate, an exchange student from New York City. Kate is a history geek and the two are soon enjoying being with each other and away from the pressure of their hometown crowd of friends. While in the cathedral which has been roped off from tourists during the shoot Ned has a strange experience when he realizes they're not alone. Somewhat freaked out by his expanded perceptions, Ned confronts a stranger they see climbing out of a grate in the floor of the baptistery. The stranger has a knife. Suffice it to say, the stranger is no friendly fellow. From this quick start, Kay builds a fantastic novel of modern people confronting ancient powers. Ysabel is a great way to kick off the year and should make more readers aware of Kay's remarkable backlist. Gavin J. Grant runs Small Beer Press in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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