May 31, 2005

Fourteen Years Later, A Whole New World

Ursula K. Le Guin. At age 74, she is still one of the best and freshest voices in YA fantasy/sci-fi bar none. Recently, Le Guin has come up with another universe that isn't Earthsea, and, it having been fourteen years since her last strictly YA novel, her readers are doubtless hoping for more.

Her quiet and deep writing style brings to her novels characterizations of depth and emotion, individuals embroiled in day to day struggles, failures and triumphs, and just some really solid storytelling. Le Guin's
Gifts is a welcome addition to her readers.

Life is hard, but idyllic, in the Uplands, where Orrec lives with his gifted father and his Lowlands mother. The Uplanders are considered witches by the Lowlanders, who live in a seaside village in some comfort. In the Uplands, there is magic, which is passed from father to son. They are tribal and poor, but their lives and fortunes are made more secure by their gifts.

They are a society divided by these gifts; Orrec's friend, Gry of the Barre tribe, can call animals, and her mother's place in their society is to be hired out to help with the hunts. The Drum tribespeople have the power of the slow wasting; and the Rodds have the gift of the knife. The Caspro gift is that of the unmaking, and Orrec, son of the brantor (headman) of the Caspro, is both proud and fearful of his father's gift. When his own is slow to mature, he is worried. Later, the power and permanency of 'unmaking' makes him afraid. Then the uneasy truce between the gifted tribes breaks down, and Orrec is pushed into thinking more deeply about gifts, and how they are used.

The novel's contemporary and universal question asks readers to consider what their gifts are, and how to make the best use of them. A heavy topic, but this book is lightened with thoughtful storytelling, sympathetic characters and
the rich details which make Le Guin such a great writer.

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