Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gifts by Ursula K Le Guin

I read this book while looking for epic fantasy for a paper on teen genres that I am writing. I decided not to include it in the epic fantasy sub-genre, but it is still a very interesting world. The world is that of the Uplanders, people who live in almost feudal communities spread out over the area known as the Uplands. Each family has a land-holding, with many farmers and serfs working the land. Each family also has a gift, and it is these gifts that keep one family from taking over all of the other lands. But some lands have been taken over, when one family's gift was not powerful enough, or could not be applied to protecting their lands.
The story is narrated by Orrec, a young man who keeps his eyes bound to protect those he loves from his gift. The gift of his family is unmaking, and if it is too powerful or cannot be controlled, it must be stopped in this way. Orrec believes that he cannot control his gift, so he covers his eyes to keep it from working accidentally. Gry is Orrec's best friend, and she also deals with the difficulty of her gift. Her family's gift is calling animals, and is used to bring animals to the hunt. She refuses to lure animals to their deaths in that way, which alienates her from her mother and others in her family. Orrec is forced to learn about the politics of the Uplands while dealing with his blindness, and he must decide if he is being used by his father, or what kind of gift it is that he truly has.
The world that is created in this book is very interesting. The Uplands seem difficult to live in, almost more so for the leading families, because of the gifts. The gifts are not easy, and are not even pleasant most of the time. They are used sparingly, to keep others in control. Orrec and Gry both must decide if they want to be used in this way, simply because that is the way that it is done. They are dealing with this on top of their normal teenage issues, as growing up for anyone is difficult enough. The story unfolds slowly, but is very beautiful, as Le Guin's writing always is. Sinking in to this tale happens without the reader realizing it, and even though it is difficult, it's resolution is satisfying.

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