Aug 7, 2016

The Other Wind

by Ursula K. LeGuin

I loved LeGuin's books of Earthsea as a teen. I was ecstatic when years after reading the original trilogy I came across her collection of short stories set in the same world, and much later, the fourth book Tehanu. A number of years back when I heard The Other Wind was published, I was so eager to read it, but  somehow never got around to it until now.

Now Ged is an old man. He used to be Archmage but those powers have left him and he lives on his mountaintop on Gont, keeping goats and tending a garden. A young sorcerer comes to him, a man whose skill is mending things- broken pots and fences, the like. His beloved wife had died and he is harrowed by dreams where he stands at a low wall, his wife reaching to him across it from the dry land. The dreams become more distressing, with other dead figures troubling him until he can no longer sleep and frightens those around him- shouting in the dark at nightmares. He comes to Ged for help but the old man points him to Roke- he senses that these dreams show a significant change coming to their world, something gone wrong in the basic order of things. The young man's journey takes him to the center of their world, where me meets Tehanu the burnt girl, a foreign princess offered in political marraige, and the young king himself. I had forgotten how much I liked Lebannen's character, even though when I first met him in an earlier book I thought he was something of a brat! There are delicate relationships between the characters, strangers and friends, foriegners and those familiar to us. I had forgotten than in this world, some people exist who are really dragons, and some dragons can take human form. The depth LeGuin goes to exploring the foundations of her island world explains why that is so. It's very satisfying in that regard, and I liked that her final version of the distinction between life and death wasn't the expected one, that it took into consideration the ancient tales and superstitions of her foreign, 'barbaric' characters as well. It's very good at looking at how opposing cultures view each other. Most of all, this is a story about the relationship between life and death.

It was a good read, but somehow did not touch me vividly as the earlier books have done. LeGuin is a master of understatement- when I was a kid this let my imagination free to fill in the gaps, to invent all the details. Now I find it just a little bit flat. I was more interested in the ideas presented, than the characters themselves. I admit I had a sudden throb of nostalgia when I first opened the book and saw the map. How I remember poring over that map as a younger reader, following the characters on their journeys between the islands, imagining the different peoples and customs on each. A lot of it came back, reading this final novel. I have a borrowed library copy in hand, but will have to get another to add to my own collection, just to have this series complete.

Rating: 3/5      273 pages, 2001

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