September 20, 2007

laced with my doubt

Posted in books tagged , at 8:46 pm by placeinthestars

So while I was sick I did some reading. I read Gifts, Voices, and Powers by Ursula LeGuin. I don’t know if I’ve ever really talked about it, but though I haven’t read most of her books, I am a huge admirer of LeGuin’s writing. The Tombs of Atuan is one of my favorite books of all time, and I cannot even measure the influence it has had on me as a reader and writer (and person). So when I saw on goodreads that she had a new YA trilogy out (I think it was R [a different R] who mentioned it, and gave Voices a positive review), I picked it up last week.

Gifts is the first in LeGuin’s Annals of the Western Shore trilogy (or is it a series? will there be more? I have no idea). I enjoyed it, found it interesting and compelling reading, and quite moving at certain points. The joy Orrec takes in reading, that this is what he chooses to do the first time he lifts his blindfold (he ‘seals his eyes’ – i.e., chooses to wear a blindfold at all times – because he fears his gift is uncontrollable, and he can kill things by looking, willing, and pointing at them), really worked for me; that his dying mother spent her time writing stories down for him, and that it’s because of her that he discovers his love of story (and thus, his freedom from self-imposed blindness and fear), made me sniffly. I think to get the full impact of Orrec’s story, though, you need to read Voices as well.

I’m still processing this book, but I really loved it. I love stories about stories, about how narratives are formed, about finding truth in fiction, and about the influence of stories on people’s lives, and Voices is about all of that. Memer is a Reader in a city where books and writing and reading have been outlawed as demonic, and her story – her love of story, of reading, of books, that books are her safe place and sanctuary and the starting point of her dreams – resonates strongly with me. And here we see what’s become of Orrec and Gry, how Orrec has turned his gift forward, as Gry suggested, how he has become a maker, a storyteller – a master storyteller – a creator instead of a destroyer, as he’d feared. And it’s his gift, his voice, that sets off a chain of events that leads to Memer finding hers, and helping her people negotiate a peace with the army occupying their city. LeGuin’s writing glows – it’s lyrical and evocative (the image of Ista dancing the maze, among others, will stay with me for a long time, I think) – her characters are well-drawn and lovable, and the story is full of both joy and sorrow. I teared up several times. Highly recommended.

The third in the series, I found it the least compelling. Technically, I am still reading this book, but around page 180, I realized what direction it was heading, and I started skimming ahead, and I ended up reading the last chapter, so I’m not sure I will go back and actually read it now.

This story is also concerned with the influence of books (and the influence of Orrec’s work in particular, though at more of a remove than in Voices) on people’s lives, and the way individual people can influence larger events, as in Voices and Gifts, but I found Gavir the least interesting of the three protagonists, and once I realized what was going to happen to Sallo, I kind of lost heart, because his relationship with her was for me the most emotionally engaging thing in the book.

Maybe if there is a book after this one, that tells the story of Gavir and Memer together, along with Gry and Orrec, I will go back and finish this one.

LeGuin’s worldbuilding is sterling – the cultures all feel real and different (sometimes there are a few too many of them for me, but that’s a personal thing), and though it is possible that some might consider the religious conflict in Voices a little heavy-handed, I thought the religion of Ansul was beautifully drawn, with a real sense of reverence and awe. I especially love the scene where Memer, in drag as the stableboy Mem, tells Simme that his god is god, but so are all her gods, as well. That sense of reverence is also evoked in Powers, in the description of the little shrine Gavir and Sallo find in the country. I also did like the description of Gavir’s time with the priests and their slaves during the siege, and his love of books (along with his love of his sister) are the two things I liked about him, where mostly he struck me as pallid and uninteresting, especially in comparison to how bright and vivid and real Memer felt.

Anyway, I’d highly recommend Voices, and Gifts works best in tandem with it (before, as intended), but I think you could give Powers a miss, though it wasn’t bad. It just didn’t hold my interest the same way the other two did.



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