I happened upon this title while browsing through the YA section at Hastings. Turns out, I didn’t know this was part of a trilogy, but as luck would have it, I picked up the first book. You all know I’ll read anything by Le Guin, so this was no exception. Also, the pretty cover caught my eye.
The premise: The families of the Uplands are poor, but carry very powerful gifts in their lineage. Orrec’s family’s gift is that of unmaking, and when Orrec’s gift finally reveals itself, it’s wild, uncontrollable. He fears what he might do to those he loves, so he chooses to blindfold himself. But times are changing in the Uplands, with warring families trying to steal each other’s land and livestock, and Orrec may not have the time he needs to get his gift under control.
This is a quiet book, and as soon as I started reading, I was reminded of Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea. This book didn’t have the dated style of prose to it (I didn’t read Wizard of Earthsea until 2003, and while the book is certainly a classic, there’s something about the style that’s dated to me), but something about the tone and the world itself reminded me of Earthsea. It’s not a book that you find yourself speeding through and unable to put down. It’s not that kind of story. But the prose is smooth and fluid, and when you’re reading, there’s no rush, but it’s also very easy to get through.
The story is a rather personal one. Orrec decides to blindfold himself for the sake of his family and land, and his best friend Gry, whose gift is to call to animals, is also refusing to use her gift, as she’s expected to call animals to hunt.
There’s a theme here of personal responsibility, and what it means to have a gift that ultimately leads to destruction. Gry uses her gift as positively as she can, to train animals, but that’s not acceptable in this world, so she turns her back on it. Orrec is so terrified of unmaking everything he sets his eye on that he refuses to remove his blindfold, even during the year his mother is dying.
I did get a little confused with all the family and domain names. The map at the start of the book really didn’t do much but show where the Uplands were, so I had a lot of difficulty figuring out the lay of the land, where the territories were, and who was who, though some characters certainly shined right off the page, like Orrec’s parents as well as Ogge, the main antagonist.
I should’ve had a little more faith in Le Guin as far as Ogge goes. I was convinced that man would rape Orrec’s mother, but that’s not what happened. He used his gift to poison her instead, and that was far more heart-breaking. But even more surprising was the truth about Orrec’s gift. At first, I too thought that maybe it was Orrec’s father that killed the adder, but I’d forgotten after the unmaking of the dog and the hillside. I kept expecting that if Orrec didn’t control his gift, he’d at least let it loose on Ogge and his domain. But no, Le Guin is far more subtle. Turns out, Orrec never had the gift at all, and every time he supposedly unmade something, it was really his father. We never really learn for sure whether his father did it on purpose or on accident, but I feel that Orrec’s father wanted so badly for his son to have a powerful gift that even though he unmade those things himself, he somehow convinced himself it was his son instead. After all, a wild, uncontrollable gift kept Ogge at bay, for a time. I liked Orrec’s revelation, and I’m only sorry that he and his father didn’t exactly reconcile before his father ended up dead.
Worth the Cash: if you’re a fan of Le Guin, particularly her Earthsea stories, I recommend this book. It’s a personal story, what it means to have magic and to be responsible for it. It’s quiet, but not without conflict, and the human element is sharp and poignant. I’m not entirely convinced this book is something a typical YA reader would eat up, but what do I know? I’m no longer YA, and I don’t know any YA readers personally. So I can only recommend this book to fans of Le Guin, or at least those readers who like quiet fantasies with a personal touch. I’ll be interested to see what the other two books in this trilogy do, but I’m in no hurry to read them.
On a random note, I really wish Le Guin would write some more SF.
Book: Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre
Graphic Novel: V for Vendetta by Alan Moore