Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Dubious Hills

By Pamela Dean.

This is still a fantastic book, even if it's a bit sad. (I've read it once before.)

Arry is the 14-year-old Physici of a community in the Dubious Hills, where everyone has (starting around puberty) a magical province of knowledge they can call their own. Hers is the knowledge of pain: whenever anyone is hurt, they rely on her to tell them so; she feels their pain as her own. The intent of the Shapers who made the spell was to prevent war, pain and suffering as much as possible, but the coming of some wolves is beginning to upset the balance. Arry, conscientious about her job even though she's only 14, begins to realize there are hurts other than physical, and struggles to find out what to do about them.

On the first reading, I took it for granted that everyone in the community pretty much accepted everyone else's knowledge. They are almost always careful about citing the original source of any statement of fact made. On this reading, I began to (cynically) wonder if perhaps some of the older members of the community were not as trusting of their own knowledge as they seemed. There's nothing definite to indicate that, so it could just be me.

Arry thinks at the beginning that she's grown up, even though she's only 14, because she's taking care of her brother and sister (her parents are gone and assumed dead) and serving as Physici to her community, but the events that come certainly challenge her and stretch her. She asks many sharp questions about knowledge and pain and responsibility which no one else seems to be able to answer. The painful part is that she and even younger children are left doing something about the problem because everyone older is trying to ignore it and hope it goes away. Is what they do right or wrong? What should everyone else have done? There are definitely questions left to ponder when you finish.

Just an interesting tidbit: I don't remember noticing the significance of the names Arry, Beldi and Con before, but it reflects the kind of systematic mind their mother and/or father must have had.

I am definitely looking forward to seeing what Arry and her siblings become in Going North (work in progress), where (SPOILER) they travel outside the bounds of the spell that gave Arry her knowledge. (Beldi and Con aren't old enough to have theirs yet.) Will Arry still be sensitive and caring when she no longer feels other people's pain, or will she be more selfish? How will she mature? What will she think about what she did after she's had some time to consider what she did in The Dubious Hills? One of the questions in The Dubious Hills is whether someone's province always matches their character, or whether perhaps it helps determine their character. How Arry changes or behaves without the spell affecting her will definitely be interesting.

Highly recommended.

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