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The Other Wind - a new Earthsea novel by Ursula K. Le Guin

Review by Mike

246 pages of joyful reading, available in hardcover in both US & UK (Harcourt).

Previous Earthsea books:
A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
The Tombs of Atuan (1971)
The Farthest Shore (1972)
Tehanu (1990)
Tales from Earthsea (2001)

CATEGORY
Fantasy. The series is often labelled as YA, but I don't think it belongs there at all.

"Farther west than west
beyond the land
my people are dancing
on the other wind"

SYNOPSIS
For fifteen years the Earthsea Archipelago has known peace, but now the dragons are moving in from the west, burning crops and villages on their way towards the central island, Havnor. At the same time the king's attempts to make peace with the new ruler of the Kargad lands in the east are about to bear fruit, but not in a way he is ready to accept.

These problems sound serious, but they are only the ripples on the surface. There is change in the air, a fundamental change in the life of every sentient being. In the centre stands Alder, a village sorcerer of no great import. Nevertheless, the souls of the Dry Land, the place where people go when they die, call out to him in his dreams every night, begging him to set them free. The pressure from them is so great that he fears to go to sleep. Finally, he sets out to find help from the master wizards of Roke.

THE WORLD
Earthsea is a world of islands that was raised out of the ocean by Segoy in the dawn of time. Humans populate most of the isles, except in the very west where dragons roam.

Magic is practised by spells in the Language of the Making that Segoy used to create the Archipelago. Speaking the true name of a person or object gives you the power to control it. Very few people know any words in this language, but those with the gift for magic are sent to Roke to learn.

The dragons, on the other hand, are born with the knowledge of this language, making communication between them and master wizards possible.

THE CHARACTERS
The great thing about the characters in this book (and any other of Le Guin works for that matter) is that they may be both wise and powerful, but still very human and easy to sympathise with. There is Alder, unable to get over the sorrow of his wife's death and tormented by the souls of the dead, and Seserakh, a Kargish princess who is sent to Havnor without any knowledge of the language or customs of the people who live there. Then we have many of the major characters from the previous books. They have aged quite a bit since the first three books, but you still recognise and love them.

THE PLOT
This is certainly not an action-filled story with lots of fights against evil sorcerers, sudden leaps between hope and despair, or cliffhangers. The plot moves on at even pace, one clue added to another, until finally both the characters and the reader understand what has to be done. Some people surely find this boring, but I think this is a nice change from reading mainstream fantasy, or even mainstream literature in general.

THE WRITING
Le Guin's prose is as always expressive and poetic, yet wonderfully easy to read. I don't think there is a single unnecessary word in this book, but strangely enough it doesn't feel like anything is left out either. In a single sentence she manages to express more than an ordinary fantasy writer does in a paragraph (and Robert Jordan in a chapter). I have come across very few authors, all genres included, that can match her, and none that is her superior.

THE GRADE
This is about as good as it gets! Ursula K. Le Guin is a master of her craft and The Other Wind is the perfect conclusion to a wonderful series. I bow my head in reverence and award this book with the only possible grade - 5 amulets.

"O my joy!
Before bright Éa was, before Segoy
Bade the islands be,
the morning wind blew on the sea.
O my joy, be free!"


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