Sunday, January 06, 2008

Voices and Powers

By Ursula K. Le Guin. Voices is the second book of the Annals of the Western Shore (whose Western Shore?), but is only loosely tied to the first book (the two characters who reappear in this one are so changed after at least 17 years that they seem like different people). Powers, the third book, meets up with characters from the first two books only at the very end.

I don't know why I enjoyed this book so much. It lacks the pervasive humor of several of the other books I've reviewed recently. The premise involves a secret library in a city overrun by invaders who hate books, but the knowledge contained within does not, in the end, seem to have much to do with the story, which is more about attitudes towards knowledge and learning. The narrator, a girl named Memer (although it took me 20 pages to realize it was a girl), plays a pivotal role in her city, but one that is more behind-the-scenes and functional than glamorous. I can tell you now, she is not a warrior princess.

I also liked the third book, Powers, but I find myself unable to explain exactly why. It concerns a young man named Gavir who was enslaved as a young child and educated to become a teacher to the children of the house that owns him. It made me think about the nature of slavery, as Gavir sees nothing wrong with being a slave in a house with a just master, and he mentions how the slaves of his house used to mock other slaves who were less well cared for. He later speculates that it was fear that made them react that way.

I recommend these both. I don't remember Gifts, the first book, having a big impression on me, but I suspect I might like it more if I reread it. All three deal with serious topics without much of the levity that has been in the other books I've enjoyed lately. Perhaps there will be another book; there is at least one major hanging end from Powers, mentioned early on and then left for the reader's curiosity to pick at.


Martin LaBar said...

Le Guin is always worth reading.

Joshua said...

Well, I read A Wizard of Earthsea a few months ago and didn't get much out of it. I also tried to read The Left Hand of Darkness but couldn't even finish, I found it so boring. Her strengths are not, apparently, in the area of humor, which seems to be something that attracts me to books. There are the openly comic ones I've been reading lately, but I also enjoy books with smart and dry humor, such as The Orphans of Chaos. It spices things up. (Crude humor, not so much.)