I tried to suspend expectations for this new book by Guy Gavriel Kay. And I did like it. It just doesn’t approach the brilliance of his historical fantasy, unfortunately. It felt like a book by another author, and only occasionally did I feel glimpses of the Kay I know and adore.
That’s not to say it’s a bad book. The action gets moving, fast. It feels more like a YA novel, in that sense. The main character, Ned, is just as clueless as the reader, although I did guess one of the secrets well before Ned figured it out. It didn’t matter much except to take away some of the impact of the ending. Part of the novel is about his growth as a person, which is probably another reason it felt like a YA novel. Lots of magic involved. There is also a lot of relationship growth, which normally I enjoy, but not as much here. To be honest, I think it was the narrator that I wasn’t particularly fond of – I didn’t dislike Ned, I just found it difficult to relate to him. A lot of the modern speech just jarred, things like jpegs and hotmail seemed strangely out of place.
I did like it though. It definitely held my attention and I actively wanted to get back to it. I appreciated the integration of history in the narrative, including it in the fantasy. It’s just that this book is missing something, something like wider relevance or commentary on a universal condition, which Kay normally includes. Perhaps he’s trying to tell us something about growing up and understanding and family relationships, but it fell short for me, and the book feels like it was merely enjoyable, not significant. He could have done something better with all that history than throw out a never-ending love story capturing the eternal discord between Romans and Germans.
If I am missing it, someone please let me know! Otherwise, I almost definitely will be recommending Kay’s other work well before this one.