Monday, April 24, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: April 25th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Within the Sanctuary of Wings is the conclusion to Marie Brennan's thrilling Lady Trent Memoirs.

After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent--dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field.

And yet--after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia--the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure--scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland's enemies--and what she discovered there, within the Sanctuary of Wings."

But but but... the last!?!

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: April 25th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Before Salem, there was Manningtree....

“This summer, my brother Matthew set himself to killing women, but without ever once breaking the law.”

Essex, England, 1645. With a heavy heart, Alice Hopkins returns to the small town she grew up in. Widowed, with child, and without prospects, she is forced to find refuge at the house of her younger brother, Matthew. In the five years she has been gone, the boy she knew has become a man of influence and wealth—but more has changed than merely his fortunes. Alice fears that even as the cruel burns of a childhood accident still mark his face, something terrible has scarred Matthew’s soul.

There is a new darkness in the town, too—frightened whispers are stirring in the streets, and Alice’s blood runs cold with dread when she discovers that Matthew is a ruthless hunter of suspected witches. Torn between devotion to her brother and horror at what he’s become, Alice is desperate to intervene—and deathly afraid of the consequences. But as Matthew’s reign of terror spreads, Alice must choose between her safety and her soul.

Alone and surrounded by suspicious eyes, Alice seeks out the fuel firing her brother’s brutal mission—and is drawn into the Hopkins family’s past. There she finds secrets nested within secrets: and at their heart, the poisonous truth. Only by putting her own life and liberty in peril can she defeat this darkest of evils—before more innocent women are forced to the gallows.

Inspired by the real-life story of notorious “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins, Beth Underdown’s thrilling debut novel blends spellbinding history with harrowing storytelling for a truly haunting reading experience."

Witches, England, what's not to like?

The Librarians and The Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: April 25th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase, an original novel based on the hit television show, The Librarians by New York Times bestselling author, Greg Cox.

For millennia, the Librarians have secretly protected the world by keeping watch over dangerous magical relics. Cataloging and safeguarding everything from Excalibur to Pandora’s Box, they stand between humanity and those who would use the relics for evil.

Stories have power.

In 1719, Elizabeth Goose published a collection of rhyming spells as a children's book, creating a spellbook of terrifying power. The Librarian of that age managed to dispose of all copies of the book except one, which remained in the possession of Elizabeth Goose and her family, temporarily averting any potential disaster.

Now, strange things are happening around the world. A tree-trimmer in Florida is blown off his elevated perch by a freak gust of wind, a woman in rural Pennsylvania is attacked by mutant rodents without any eyes, and a college professor in England finds herself trapped inside a prize pumpkin at a local farmer’s market. Baird and her team of Librarians suspect that the magic of Mother Goose is again loose in the world, and with Flynn AWOL―again―it is up to Cassandra, Ezekiel, and Stone to track down the missing spellbook before the true power of the rhymes can be unleashed."

I enjoy the show so I'm excited to get into this continuation of the show in print form.

The Second Bride by Katharine Swartz
Published by: Lion Fiction
Publication Date: April 25th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Ellen Tyson's idyllic village life is derailed when Annabelle moves in. The teenage daughter from her husband's first marriage, Annabelle is seventeen, surly, and defiant. And she has no interest in being part of her father's second family.

When a death certificate from the 1870s, hidden beneath the floorboards of their attic, is discovered during a renovation, Ellen tries to use it as a way to get closer to Annabelle. But as both women learn about Sarah Mills who died in 1872, they find the past reflected in their own lives in strange and startling ways.

A dual narrative between the present and the 1860s, The Second Bride is a powerful and moving drama that narrates the difficulties and joys of blending families."

I'm a sucker for dual narratives.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Book Review - Ursula K. Le Guin's Tales from Earthsea

Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published by: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 2001
Format: Paperback, 480 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Magic has always been at the center of the epic stories of Earthsea. It is the heart of the great archipelago just as much as the Immanent Grove on Roke is. But magic takes many forms and also takes a toll. From the days when magic wasn't institutionalized and evil wizards could take advantage of others, leading to the safe haven of Roke and magic being taught by men and women to those with a pure heart and ability to having to face the ultimate choice between one's ability for magic and one's true heart's desire, stories can be grand in scale or seemingly small, like the love between two people. And love takes many forms, between man and woman and between master and apprentice. The great mage Ogion's master, his teacher, made the greatest sacrifice to save Gont and yet, years late, all people remember is Ogion's heroism. Yet surely all Ogion remembers is that he didn't get to say goodbye. But Ogion left Roke, went to Gont to complete his training, while there were those on Roke whose true love was power. Power that can break a human completely. Power that is so dangerous that it is best to forget, it is best to choose a new path, a new destiny. But there are some destinies that can never be avoided. The latent power within where you know you weren't destined for this world, you were destined to fly. But your sex, your station, precludes you. So what's wrong with breaking a few rules if the magic inside you is leading you to who you're meant to be? It all depends on your story.

What's interesting about Tales from Earthsea is that the whole book feels like a writing experiment, which Le Guin herself basically confirms in her foreword and afterword. These tales being not much more than trial and error as to how best to handle the conclusion of the Earthsea cycle and come to grips with the narrative arc. What this means is that they vary in quality from transcendent tales of Ogion saving Gont to rather ponderous tales of choosing your journey through life, be it music or magic. I do find it interesting though that she is rather blunt in her bookends to the tales and what comes across is the feeling of a writer who is visibly struggling with her shortcomings. What I admire is that she obviously knows she needs improvement and was willing to take the time to try to fix her failings. Because the truth is we all can improve and hone whatever craft, whatever calling we have, and to admit this so publicly? I really am in awe of that. But more than that, I can see the improvement! Le Guin's biggest flaw is her inability to handle endings properly. There's an ineptitude there that all these tales are working to redress. In fact of the five tales here collected, only 'Darkrose and Diamond' had a slightly convoluted ending. Now that is improvement. Because even though I adore The Tombs of Atuan, I have to say, even it has a rushed ending that could have been improved.

Yet she's not just redressing the issues of her plotting, she is redressing the balance, the equilibrium that is so out of whack in Earthsea that it could be the cause of the great change that is underway in the archipelago. What she is finally doing is firmly establishing women and their roles within the cycle. Because this series has always been about maintaining the balance. This series was never just about Ged, it was about Ged and Tenar, two sides of a coin. So therefore, aside from reading about Tenar, how are women set within this universe? While a more traditional series written by a male author might just ignore this whole issue and not even question an entire male party heading off to Mount Doom, a modern female author would hopefully in this day and age not do this. Thankfully Le Guin is such an author. Therefore we're finally seeing in much more detail how woman fit into the magical system of the mages. It's not just hedge witches anymore! While we would dearly miss the hedge witches we've come to know and love, seeing more into the male hierarchy of Roke and the holes in their theories when we see that women were a part of that founding, we see that women are far more powerful than the males would like to think. There's a feeling of reclaiming their story throughout the pages of this book, seeing that it's not all celibate men dictating the course of history.

But those celibate men have been causing troubles and there's a big plot hole in this book because of it. In the first tale, 'The Finder,' we read about Otter and his arrival at Roke, which was run by women, and the founding of the school for wizards there. A founding wherein his partner was female and she was the first Master Patterner. Yet in "modern" times the school is basically a monastery with men hoarding all knowledge of magic because women can't deal with it because of their delicate sensibilities and all that bull shit. So sex AND women were originally allowed, but come the "modern" times in the fifth tale, 'The Dragonfly,' and Irian is being turned away because she is female, though she did attempt a male disguise. So the plot hole is HOW THE HECK DID THIS HAPPEN!?! How did Roke go from an egalitarian to a patriarchal society? There is ONE mention in the history of the land in 'A Description of Earthsea' that the first Archmage just got ride of the women. How!?! And when!?! I mean, I thought this book was kind of here to fill in the blanks and yet to show us this wonderful golden age of equality and then show us what we know it becomes without an inbetween seems like a major oversight. I mean seriously, how and why? Le Guin made this world, the least she could do is explain how this major imbalance of the sexes came to be.

Le Guin though loves to leave her stories a little messy. She picks up threads in later stories and books and so while this book as well as the final book, The Other Wind, doesn't address this seismic shift, just the fact of it's being, I wouldn't rule out her finally coming back to it years from now. In fact it wasn't until this book that we got some much longed for resolution when it came to Therru and her being a dragon. While it is only repeatedly insinuated in Tehanu that Therru is able to turn into a dragon, as she can call the great dragon Kalessin and speaks the language of the making, we never see her turn into a dragon. She stays human and with her humans and it's really a big letdown. In fact you kind of start to wonder if she even CAN turn into a dragon and maybe you were just reading what you wanted to read in Tehanu. But then comes the story "Dragonfly" and we FINALLY have a girl turning into a dragon! Not only that, she arrives on Roke and puts the masters all out of whack and then, bam, dragon. It's not a perfect tale by any means, starting off with a very creepy "wizard" Ivory trying to seduce Irian in her human form. But once we journey to Roke everything seems to fall into place. We see Irian doing the transformation that Therru may one day do and proving all my daydreams about Tehanu right. Yes to women not only being powerful but being dragons!

Yet in the end Tales from Earthsea has a very Tolkien vibe. Because this isn't one consistent narrative but lots of little stories that help you piece together the history of Earthsea. This can be seen most in 'A Description of Earthsea' which is SO Tolkien in that it lays out the races, the sexes, the languages, the dragons, everything is set down, but it's set down in a quick and perfunctory manner which mercifully doesn't go to the multiple volumes Tolkien would. I think that is what I love most about Earthsea, you know what you need to know and so much more is hinted at but you don't have to laboriously plod through all this ephemera to get the history of the archipelago. Yes, it might bother me that I want to know exactly how women were thrown out of the school on Roke, but would I want to read a three volume box set to learn why? No I wouldn't. The reason why Earthsea is so good a place to journey to is that's it's accessible. It's not bogged down in history and stilted writing like Tolkien, sorry to Tolkien fans but he was a historian not a writer. It's not replete with religious overtones that are trying to convert you to Catholicism, and yes, I do love Narnia, but that ending is brutal. Earthsea is like this wonderful middle ground that has the stories, the history, but also powerful women and an approachable text. So while I might not love everything about it, I do love visiting and hope that one day maybe in the not too distant future Le Guin will give us another adventure to this cycle.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Review Ursula K. Le Guin's Tehanu

Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published by: Saga Press
Publication Date: 1990
Format: Paperback, 252 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Tenar didn't choose the life she was destined to live, nor did she choose the life that Ged and Ogion offered her, instead she chose her own life, marriage to the farmer Flint and two children, a son and a daughter. A life much like her mother lived in Atuan before Tenar was taken away to serve the Nameless Ones. The wizards might look down on her for choosing the life of a typical female, but it's a life she never thought was in her grasp. It's been twenty-five years since she made her choice, since she moved to Oak Farm on Gont and raised her family. Her children are now grown and gone and her husband is in the ground. But she has no regrets. She has made a life for herself as Goha, a pillar of the community, one whom others turn to. They turn to her when a young girl is left by vagrants badly burned and on the brink of death. Tenar helps save the child's life and takes her as her own. Therru is her third child and as she's so young she takes her to Re Albi when she gets word that Ogion is on his deathbed.

Ogion was like a father to Tenar and she wonders what her life would have been like if she had stayed, if she had learned magic. His final words to her though are in regards to the power residing in Therru and the change that has been wrought in the world. All has changed. Because unbeknownst to Tenar Ged has defeated the evil that was infecting the world, the evil that lead to Therru's disfigurement. There is to be a king in Earthsea again. A king that very much hopes that Ged will be at his side. But Ged has returned to Gont on the back of a dragon, powerless and ill. Tenar must return him to health and hide him from the crown. She had seen them all living at Re Albi, but evil magics push her and Therru away and Ged goes off into the mountains. Back at Oak Farm life returns to normal, or the new normal as it were. Though there is still danger. Those who attacked Therru want her back and other villains aren't very much in favor of the new king and his rule. Will Tenar and Ged be able to defeat the evil on Gont? Or will their age and diminished powers need help from another source?

Almost two decades after The Farthest Shore Le Guin came back to Earthsea with Tehanu. What's interesting in this is not the length of time she took to write it but in that it picks up Ged's story almost minutes after we last saw him. And yet, this isn't Ged's story. This is Tenar's. As a woman I felt far more of a connection to Tenar than I ever did to Ged. Tenar is his balance. The magic of Earthsea is all about balance and equilibrium so therefore it makes sense for Ged to have a strong female counterpoint. Yet I felt that by bringing these two characters together sexually as a couple it almost undid all that came before. It made Tenar's decisions to turn her back on magic and take on the traditional role of a female as just all backstory for when she finally got Ged. As for Ged, he's broken, so she's only allowed to have him because he can no longer be what he was? Yeah. Nope. While after I read The Tombs of Atuan I might have thought what if, sometimes it's far better to have that "what if" never acted on. How many times has the eventual consummation of a relationship destroyed a narrative Moonlighting style? The number is probably too numerous to count, so yeah, I just wish Le Guin hadn't gone there.

In fact, judging by her afterward I think there's a lot about this book she would second guess if she were to write it again. What I find interesting is that what readers seemed to object to most was the diminishment of Ged and the embracing of feminism. Firstly, this isn't Ged's story, so get over it. Secondly, I wouldn't call this book feminist, I would just say that it successfully shows a woman's POV, and given that this is Tenar's book, that makes total sense. I mean, yes, you could call any book with a female lead feminist, but what I particularly love about Tenar is that she embraces the true meaning of feminism, in that you don't need to be militant to be a feminist, you can be a warrior in your own way. You can be a feminist while still embracing the more traditional role of females of hearth and home. She's true to herself, and if that is feminism, well, I'm glad this book is such. Tenar gets the life she never thought she'd have by turning away from magic and that knowledge, and finding different knowledge and truth in herself while being vocal about what it is to be a woman.

The truth that's spoken about being a woman is that it is dangerous to be female. When people talk about living in a society that at this moment doesn't feel safe, the thing about being a woman is that you never really feel safe. And maybe it was being shown this truth that readers objected to. Yes, you can try to harness your power, marshal your resources, but any time you're out walking and you hear something or see someone coming towards you from a distance, you worry. You think, this is danger. With society taking more and more rights away from us and with danger lurking around an innocent looking corner, I think this book needs to be read by more people. It gets into the psyche of what it is to be female, but also, how to live if the worst does happen to you. If you're burned and raped and left for dead. Therru's journey is inspiring. She takes back her power and survives and, in the end, thrives. So once again, if this is considered "feminist" then so be it. This needed to be said, this needed to be seen. And if you're a reader who can't get past a label of "feminism" that doesn't really bring to the forefront the complexities Le Guin is dealing with, than I'm really sorry for you because you're missing out on so much.

Which brings me to Therru. Therru is awesome. But. Yes, you knew that "but" was coming. The problem is Therru's story feels only half told. She is a young girl destroyed by family through violence and fire. She is rehabilitated through Tenar's love. At the end she shows her true power, linking her to a story Ogion used to tell Tenar about a woman who was a woman and a dragon at the same time. Yet her backstory isn't fully explained and her future is left up in the air and is hopefully explained in the final to books in the Earthsea cycle. As for that left unanswered? Her father/uncle, the man who was the most concerned with her of her abusers keeps returning and trying to claim her. Why? Was it because he was drawn to her because of her innate power? Was it because he wanted to silence her forever? Was it because her power scared and thrilled him and that's why he would attack her but also wanted to be near her? The motives are NEVER explained. As for Therru and her relationship to Ogion's story... was she always part dragon? Hence the power drawing those to her? Or was her attack and near consumption by fire what gave her power? Made her have a new affinity for fire? I just feel that Therru even after a couple hundred pages is just as much a mystery as she was at the start and I NEED more of her story.

But then again, I've noticed that Le Guin isn't very deft with handling endings. She tends to rush straight into things and everything ends in a jumble. Here just a paragraph or three of degradation for Tenar and Ged at the hands of a wizard and then Therru and a dragon to the rescue. Literally this book is drawn to a rapid conclusion in only twenty-five pages! And also, I kid not, ends on a cliff. It's like, despite at the time calling this "The Last Book of Earthsea" she already knew there was going to be more and a cliffhanger might be funny. Yeah, cliffhangers are the last bastion of those who are a little bit lazy when it comes to being storytellers. They torture their readers by employing this device, so I guess the fact that she hinted at it but didn't actually do it should be considered a win for us readers? I think my main problem is that Le Guin has created this vast and complex world and yet likes to leave it a little messy and unresolved. Yes, this makes it more realistic, but this is fantasy. Fantasy is allowed to have everything handed to you on a platter with a nice neat bow. Her approach might not be as satisfying, but personally, I could have used a few more answers and a few less "until next times."

Monday, April 17, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: April 18th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From Ann Cleeves, winner of the CWA Diamond Dagger Award, comes Cold Earth.

In the dark days of a Shetland winter, torrential rain triggers a landslide that crosses the main road and sweeps down to the sea.

At the burial of his old friend Magnus Tait, Jimmy Perez watches the flood of mud and water smash through a house in its path. Everyone thinks the home is uninhabited, but in the wreckage he finds the body of a dark-haired woman wearing a red silk dress. Perez soon becomes obsessed with tracing her identity and realizes he must find out who she was and how she died.

Cold Earth is the seventh book in the beloved Shetland series, which is now a major success for the BBC."

Anyone else glad that the TV shows based on her books are a success meaning we're finally getting the books stateside?

A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: April 18th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The author of the award-winning Spill Simmer Falter Wither returns with a stunning new novel about a young artist's search for meaning and healing in rural Ireland.

Struggling to cope with urban life-and life in general-Frankie, a twenty-something artist, retreats to her family's rural house on "turbine hill," vacant since her grandmother's death three years earlier. It is in this space, surrounded by countryside and wild creatures, that she can finally grapple with the chain of events that led her here-her shaky mental health, her difficult time in art school-and maybe, just maybe, regain her footing in art and life.

As Frankie picks up photography once more, closely examining the natural world around her, she reconsiders seminal works of art and their relevance. With "prose that makes sure we look and listen," Sara Baume has written an elegant novel that is as much an exploration of wildness, the art world, mental illness, and community as it is a profoundly beautiful and powerful meditation on life."

I want to run away and just regain my footing, art, and life! 

The Walworth Beauty by Michele Roberts
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publication Date: April 18th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the Booker-shortlisted author comes a sensuous, evocative novel exploring the lives of women in Victorian London, for fans of Sarah Waters, Emma Donoghue and Kate Atkinson 2011: When Madeleine loses her job as a lecturer, she decides to leave her riverside flat in cobbled Stew Lane, where history never feels far away, and move to Apricot Place. Yet here too, in this quiet Walworth cul-de-sac, she senses the past encroaching: a shifting in the atmosphere, a current of unseen life. 1851: and Joseph Benson has been employed by Henry Mayhew to help research his articles on the working classes. A family man with mouths to feed, Joseph is tasked with coaxing testimony from prostitutes. Roaming the Southwark streets, he is tempted by brothels' promises of pleasure - and as he struggles with his assignment, he seeks answers in Apricot Place, where the enigmatic Mrs Dulcimer runs a boarding house. As these entwined stories unfold, alive with the sensations of London past and present, the two eras brush against each other - a breath at Madeleine's neck, a voice in her head - the murmurs of ghosts echoing through time. Rendered in immediate, intoxicating prose, The Walworth Beauty is a haunting tale of desire and exploitation, isolation and loss, and the faltering search for human connection; this is Michele Roberts at her masterful best."

YAS! Go Victorian times!

Manderley Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 18th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The nonfiction debut from beloved international sensation and #1 New York Times bestselling author Tatiana de Rosnay: her bestselling biography of novelist Daphne du Maurier.

“It's impressive how Tatiana was able to recreate the personality of my mother, including her sense of humor. It is very well written and very moving. I’m sure my mother would have loved this book.” ― Tessa Montgomery d’Alamein, daughter of Daphné du Maurier, as told to Pauline Sommelet in Point de Vue.

As a bilingual bestselling novelist with a mixed Franco-British bloodline and a host of eminent forebears, Tatiana de Rosnay is the perfect candidate to write a biography of Daphne du Maurier. As an eleven-year-old de Rosnay read and reread Rebecca, becoming a lifelong devotee of Du Maurier’s fiction. Now de Rosnay pays homage to the writer who influenced her so deeply, following Du Maurier from a shy seven-year-old, a rebellious sixteen-year-old, a twenty-something newlywed, and finally a cantankerous old lady. With a rhythm and intimacy to its prose characteristic of all de Rosnay’s works, Manderley Forever is a vividly compelling portrait and celebration of an intriguing, hugely popular and (at the time) critically underrated writer."

Let's open the vault and get those Du Maurier secrets! 

Elephi: The Cat with the High IQ by Jean Stafford
Published by: Dover Publications
Publication Date: April 18th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 80 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Elephi Pelephi Well Known Cat Formerly Kitten lives a comfortable life with a kind but dull couple who often leave him to his own devices. Being a cat with a high IQ, he longs for stimulating companionship, and when he spies a snow-covered car outside his Fifth Avenue apartment, Elephi recognizes the opportunity for an adventure. Taking advantage of an open door, the intrepid cat bolts out to the street and devises a rescue for the abandoned vehicle, a daring maneuver that leads to comic confusion and a surprising new friendship.

Splendid black-and-white drawings that evoke New York City of the 1960s complement this classic by the winner of the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Jean Stafford is best known for her short stories, which appeared in the New Yorker and other literary magazines. Her own beloved pet inspired this tale of Elephi, Stafford's only children's book, which is clearly the work of someone who loves and understands cats."

The cat is wearing a monocle! I'm sold.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Book Review - Ursula K. Le Guin's The Farthest Shore

The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published by: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: 1972
Format: Hardcover, 422 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Arren, the young Prince of Enland has come to the island of Roke to speak to the Archmage. He has been sent by his father, who is a wizardly man, to tell the Archmage that magic is dying, Earthsea is in danger. There is a sickness throughout the land, a malaise. Crops won't grow, spells are forgotten, and yet people don't care. On Roke they are ignorant of these changes in Earthsea, being protected by their magics. The Archmage, Sparrowhawk, sees the danger and vows to discover the source. Having grown up hearing the exploits of this great man Arren offers himself as his traveling companion. His sword. It is Arren's greatest desire in life to go on an adventure with his hero, though little does he know that adventures might sound wondrous in song, but are often arduous journeys where your survival is often a question. They leave Roke in Lookfar, sailing to Hort Town. A wizard there, while almost killing them, provides the first clues to the sickness. There is a wizard whose malign influence is tainting the world, trying to upset the balance between life and death. Earthsea depends on this balance, by shifting to the dark the will to live is draining out of the world. The two travelers see this again in Lorbanery, famous for dying silk, but they dye silk no more. Soon the malaise starts to effect Arren and Sparrowhawk almost dies because of his apathy. Yet they are spared once again and the dragons lead them to the final battle between good and evil. Will good triumph and an old prophecy be fulfilled? Or will evil win and strand the two adventurers in the land of the dead?

After how deeply I connected to the second book in this series, The Tombs of Atuan, there was almost no way that the third volume could spark that kind of devotion. But I was willing to have an open mind. Because the truth is, I was wary about The Tombs of Atuan and then it eventually not only sucked me in but won me over. So heading into The Farthest Shore my mind was open, I was ready for the next adventure of Ged and well... I was left cold. Like I was dumped out of Lookfar in some remote inlet and just left there. There were many reasons for this disconnect, the time jump, the earnest Arren, the meager plot, the truth is The Farthest Shore just didn't feel substantial enough when compared to the previous two volumes. I mean they are on land for little if any of the book, not that I'm saying a book set on a boat is boring, just this book set on a boat. Because when they're in the boat they just sit there. Occasionally move from one end to the other, there's the random swimming, oh, and the boring food that at least sustains them... so the whole book is on a boring boat, where not much is happening, they land, there's an angry mob, yell, yell, shout, attack, attack, back in the boat, sail some more, land again, oh look the evil ennui is here too, shout, attack, flee to boat, repeat again and again, until the lassitude infects Arren and he sits in the boat watching Ged die. Yeah, this is one happy book!

The flaw of the book is that Ged isn't the hero. Yes, he wasn't the hero in The Tombs of Atuan, but at least there he felt integral to Tenar's journey, here... here he's just an old man that doesn't really do much and the burden is shifted to the slight shoulders of Arren. When you look at Arren's arc as a whole from naive youth to the future king that will reunite all of Earthsea, it makes you not so hasty to judge him. But this is knowledge obtained after you've read the entire book, so for most of the book you're stuck with the trouble of Arren. Arren is just too naive and his hero worshiping of Ged, it's too much. He's a sycophant. He makes Beatlemania seem tame. It's actually nauseating. Heck, I'm not anti Ged, it's just, because of the timelapse, well, we don't know ALL of his adventures, unlike Arren who probably had a scribe laboriously write them out and have them bound in the finest calfskin. Logically I know that Le Guin wrote Arren to this extreme to contrast with his late apathy of Ged in the boat dying of a spear wound, to show how deep the sickness that has gripped Earthsea really goes, but still. Just no. There's just something about this blind optimism for adventure that is just too naive for me, especially considering how much danger and hate they encounter along the way.

Of course if there was still a connection between the reader and Ged then perhaps Arren's fanaticism could have been overlooked, but there's just too much time between the previous volume and this one. We saw Ged become a wizard and overcome a dark shadow and reunite the halves of the ring of Erreth-akbe but as we learn in Tehanu, that was twenty-five years previously, despite there only being two years between the publication of The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore. During that time Ged must have had countless adventures, all known by heart by Arren, but unknown to the readers. We join him as Archmage of Roke, and we no longer know him. He's a stranger. This forces the narrative onto Arren's shoulders, and as I've already said, this doesn't work. Ged was who we started this journey with and it should be through him that we "finish" this journey. Instead he's enigmatic, remote, withdrawn, nothing like what we've seen before. Yes, having already started reading Tehanu I know the whys and wherefores, but the problem with Le Guin's series is that sometimes she is willing to sacrifice aspects of the current story in order to serve the overall story. While this is the way successful series are built, I still want each volume to work on it's own. I want each part of the story to be satisfying, not a placeholder to get to the next arc.

But the other thing I have to wonder is how long does it take to set Earthsea to rights? Because at the end of The Tombs of Atuan the two halves of the ring of Erreth-akbe were reunited and therefore peace was to be restored to Earthsea with the ascension of the rightful king. Um... it's been twenty-five years, literally almost a generation and things have just gotten worse and worse. I know it takes awhile to jump start the whole fixing a world but a generation!?! As I said, having jumped to the next story there are hints at other reasons this is happening, but just for the here and now, well, it's sad and depressing. This great victory for good and Ged and yet he goes off to be Archmage and shuts himself off from the world thinking what, that the world would just right itself? That his work was done and it was time to train up a new generation of wizards? Not only does it seem unfeasible, but it seems wrong of Ged. He literally turned his back on the world and now everything is shit. In fact when it's revealed that Ged knew the dark wizard who was behind the unbalancing of Earthsea, don't you think if he had stayed a little more connected, a little more invested with seeing through this peace he hoped to bring about that all this wouldn't have happened? Just saying, Ged, you dropped the ball and you SO don't deserve the worship of Arren.

Though in the end it was the magic leaving the world and the lassitude taking over Earthsea that made the book lackluster. Because that malaise permeated every page of this book and literally made me not want to pick it up. Whereas I devoured the first two books literally in a couple of days, it almost took me a week to struggle through until I reached the farthest shore. The ennui became a part of me. Perhaps I should tip my hat and say that Le Guin is such a successful writer she made the pervasive mood of the book literally jump off the page and into my life, but that doesn't take into account my desire to just set this book aside and never bother finishing it. If Arren can sit by and watch Ged die, why do I have to sit by and read about it? Why don't I move onto something a little more upbeat, a little less, everyone is going to die and we don't really care one jot. Or I could just sit in this chair and stare at the wall. Walls are nice. Walls are restful. Yes, I might have read this book in the middle of an illness, but I read the other two in the exact same condition. It's rare when I think sleep is the better option than reading. In fact choosing sleep over reading is usually detrimental to my mental health, needing a little escape before bed, but I would totally choose a nice nap over ever having to read this book again.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

TV Review - Earthsea

Earthsea
Based on the book by Ursula K. Le Guin
Starring: Shawn Ashmore, Erin Karpluk, Danny Glover, Alessandro Juliani, Richard Side, Chris Gauthier, Mark Hildreth, Heather Laura Gray, Alan Scarfe, Katharine Isabelle, Sebastian Roché, Jennifer Calvert, Emily Hampshire, Kristin Kreuk, and Isabella Rossellini
Release Date: December 13th-14th, 2004
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

King Tygath longs to subdue all of Earthsea and achieve immortality through the Nameless Ones. Two people stand in his way, Ged and Tenar. Yet he knows neither by name. Ged is the wizard prophesied to unite Earthsea in peace while Tenar will guard the labyrinthine prison of the Nameless Ones. Despite never meeting, Ged and Tenar know each other, through visions they have had for years. But their inevitable meeting isn't to happen. Yet. First Ged must leave his small village on the isle of Gont. He feels that he will forever be trapped there, the son of a smith, when he longs to do magic. He uses what little magic he knows from an old woman in the village to save his townspeople from the Kargides who arrive searching for the wizard of the prophecy. Ged dies in the attack. But the wandering magus Ogion arrives and revives Ged, taking him on as his pupil and giving him his true name, Sparrowhawk. But Ogion sees that he isn't the teacher for Ged and sends him to Roke, where he will attend the wizarding school there. Yet Ged doesn't understand why there are limits to magic and in a forbidden duel with a fellow student he releases a Nameless One. This act will haunt Ged and also signals to King Tygath that Ged is the wizard of the prophesy.

Ged is hunted by the Gebbeth, who eventually takes on Ged's form. His battle though will bring him to Atuan and Tenar. Tenar is the prized pupil of the High Priestess Thar. Thar is obstinate against King Tygarth and his desire to release the order's prisoners, the Nameless Ones. The King therefore is plotting with Thar's second in command and his lover, Kossil, to poison Thar and therefore make Kossil the one with the knowledge to release the Nameless Ones. Yet things don't go according to plan when Thar names Tenar as her successor. They therefore plot to tarnish Tenar's perfect image and achieve the immortality they seek. But on her deathbed Thar mutters a warning that what King Tygarth seeks is impossible. Little does she know that it is impossible because of the disgraced Tenar who is now captive in the order's dungeon with Ged. The two of them have been destined to meet. Destined to save Earthsea. But will they be in time to bring peace to the land or will King Tygarth rule forever?   

Here's the thing about this miniseries, if you go in expecting it to be in ANY WAY like the books by Ursula K. Le Guin, you are going to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you take it at face value, don't over analyze, and yes, that's ironic coming from me, then it's entertaining. It's good for what it is but what it is is not the books you know and love. Driven by the success of the Harry Potter film franchise which in 2004 had adapted the first three books by J.K Rowling and by the success of The Lord of the Rings film franchise, which released it's final film a year prior this series was tailored to be a combination of the two. Therefore the action was predominately split between the wizarding school on Roke and the war on Earthsea led by King Tygarth and his Kargides. While in the books Ged's education is important, it's not such a focal point, as for the raiding Kargides? They're hardly mentioned except in passing. This miniseries was trying so hard to be an amalgam of something that it wasn't that it missed the opportunity to bring Le Guin's groundbreaking books to a great public. So while I did enjoy it I could help thinking what if?

Because what this could have been, what this should have been is an epic fantasy version of Roots. And you can tell looking at the DVD cover, well... Shawn Ashmore, he's, um, he would not be a protagonist in Roots. In fact Danny Glover is about the only thing they got right with regards to the source material, and personally, I felt a little bad for him. Did he sign on knowing the books? Did he think this would have been the epic it should have been? Whitewashing is being talked about more and more in regards to mainstream media. When Le Guin wrote her scathing tirade lambasting this production whitewashing wasn't discussed as readily as it is today. I feel that while the race issue has become more polarized at least audiences are getting more and more savvy, just look to the recent failure of Ghost in the Shell, casting Scarlett Johansson as the lead was an insult and audiences showed their disdain by not going to the film. Then there was the convoluted whitewashing of the Ancient One in Doctor Strange. I say convoluted because they went a step in the right direction by casting a woman in a male's role, but then it was a white woman who then started badmouthing her own casting... Any way you look at it, the lack of diversity on the screen is an insult to Le Guin's vision and I'm surprised she didn't find a way to fully distance herself from the production.

What I felt though really took this miniseries away from Le Guin's vision wasn't just the whitewashing, which is unacceptable, but the refocusing on war and violence. It's rare to have a series of books that celebrate humanity and the search for self. It's even rarer to find that series in fantasy where epic battles the equal of Helm's Deep or The Battle of Hogwarts seem to be the order of the day. Reading the books by Le Guin is a refreshing experience. They have become classics because they aren't like what else is out there. To strip the story of all that and replace it with King Tygath, a power-hungry and violent ruler who is almost irrelevant in The Tombs of Atuan, it's just insulting to the viewers. The reason why I don't like the Marvel film franchise or in fact really any superhero films is it's just action scene after action scene with no character development. So Sci-Fi did to Earthsea what they assumed their viewers wanted... made it epic battles and raids. While their might have been one raid in the first book, it wasn't with an express purpose of war and dominance, it was part of Ged's journey. But now, because of "popular tastes" Ged's journey is just one battle after another not to find himself but to save Earthsea from an evil tyrant. Sigh.

But the thing is, what this miniseries wants to be is the equal of The Lords of the Rings or Harry Potter, yet those are movies with IMMENSE budgets... this was a miniseries shot in Vancouver. Therefore your CGI looks a little or in this case A LOT like a bad video game and the special effects look like something Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell cooked up. At first I thought that the miniseries HAD to have been made a lot longer ago then just thirteen years because it's literally that bad, but the more practical effects had a kind of cheesy charm. It is my belief that CGI doesn't age well at all but practical effects, even if they look cheesy, they will hold up better over time. Because while technology might have improved, at least it's a physical thing that's there and not some greenscreened snake. Seriously, stop doing CGI snakes, they NEVER look right. So I kind of went to a weird place and started wondering, what if they had upped the cheese factor on the effects. Gone all in on The Evil Dead vibe. I personally think that could have really worked, made it shine a little, or at least made it amusingly memorable. It never had a chance to be a cinematic masterpiece, so why not go the other way?

Though for me the biggest insult of the miniseries which I kind of had to keep telling myself to ignore and just accept for what it is is how they treated the storyline from The Tombs of Atuan. I mean, it's just... nope. Nope, nope, nope. I seriously loved that book so much and aside from the insult of having Kristin Kreuk be Tenar, they just didn't get it. I mean, watching this miniseries it's pretty obvious they just didn't get anything about the source material, but what bothered me most about the story in Atuan was that it stripped the women of power, giving it all to the King, but more importantly, it made them servants of good. In the book they worship the Nameless Ones. Worship, as in revere and idolize. Here they're trying to keep the Nameless Ones locked away from the world. What!?! I mean, seriously what? That the good Tenar could come out of this bad situation, that she could find herself when she was raised for evil? That's a true journey of discovery. Here she's just a lame handmaiden waiting for the guy to come along and figure everything out and give her the heroic kiss as the world is set to right. NO NO NO! Ged is to be at her mercy and it is her with the upper hand. Just no. I'm really starting to second guess why I liked this miniseries. I guess for one rare instance I was able to separate what it was, what it could have been, and what it became into separate categories and somehow I was OK with that. Still don't quite know how.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
Published by: Del Rey
Publication Date: April 11th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this definitive novel, readers will follow Thrawn’s rise to power—uncovering the events that created one of the most iconic villains in Star Wars history.

One of the most cunning and ruthless warriors in the history of the Galactic Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn is also one of the most captivating characters in the Star Wars universe, from his introduction in bestselling author Timothy Zahn’s classic Heir to the Empire through his continuing adventures in Dark Force Rising, The Last Command, and beyond. But Thrawn’s origins and the story of his rise in the Imperial ranks have remained mysterious. Now, in Star Wars: Thrawn, Timothy Zahn chronicles the fateful events that launched the blue-skinned, red-eyed master of military strategy and lethal warfare into the highest realms of power—and infamy.

After Thrawn is rescued from exile by Imperial soldiers, his deadly ingenuity and keen tactical abilities swiftly capture the attention of Emperor Palpatine. And just as quickly, Thrawn proves to be as indispensable to the Empire as he is ambitious; as devoted as its most loyal servant, Darth Vader; and a brilliant warrior never to be underestimated. On missions to rout smugglers, snare spies, and defeat pirates, he triumphs time and again—even as his renegade methods infuriate superiors while inspiring ever greater admiration from the Empire. As one promotion follows another in his rapid ascension to greater power, he schools his trusted aide, Ensign Eli Vanto, in the arts of combat and leadership, and the secrets of claiming victory. But even though Thrawn dominates the battlefield, he has much to learn in the arena of politics, where ruthless administrator Arihnda Pryce holds the power to be a potent ally or a brutal enemy.

All these lessons will be put to the ultimate test when Thrawn rises to admiral and must pit all the knowledge, instincts, and battle forces at his command against an insurgent uprising that threatens not only innocent lives but also the Empire’s grip on the galaxy—and his own carefully laid plans for future ascendancy."

I seriously CAN NOT contain my excitement for this book! Zahn and Thrawn made me a reader!!!

Cold Welcome by Elizabeth Moon
Published by: Del Rey
Publication Date: April 11th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Nebula Award–winning author Elizabeth Moon makes a triumphant return to science fiction with a thrilling series featuring Kylara Vatta, the daring hero of her acclaimed Vatta’s War sequence.

After nearly a decade away, Nebula Award–winning author Elizabeth Moon makes a triumphant return to science fiction with this installment in a thrilling new series featuring the daring hero of her acclaimed Vatta’s War sequence.

Summoned to the home planet of her family’s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero’s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance.

Yet even as Ky leads her team from one crisis to another, her family and friends refuse to give up hope, endeavoring to mount a rescue from halfway around the planet—a task that is complicated as Ky and her supporters find secrets others will kill to protect: a conspiracy infecting both government and military that threatens not only her own group’s survival but her entire home planet."

Yes please!

A Twist in Time by Julie McElwain
Published by: Pegasus Books
Publication Date: April 11th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When Kendra Donovan’s plan to return to the 21st century fails, leaving her stranded in 1815, the Duke of Aldridge believes he knows the reason―she must save his nephew, who has been accused of brutally murdering his ex-mistress.

Former FBI agent Kendra Donovan’s attempts to return to the twenty-first century have failed, leaving her stuck at Aldridge Castle in 1815. And her problems have just begun: in London, the Duke of Aldridge’s nephew Alec―Kendra’s confidante and lover―has come under suspicion for murdering his former mistress, Lady Dover, who was found viciously stabbed with a stiletto, her face carved up in a bizarre and brutal way.

Lady Dover had plenty of secrets, and her past wasn’t quite what she’d made it out to be. Nor is it entirely in the past―which becomes frighteningly clear when a crime lord emerges from London’s seamy underbelly to threaten Alec. Joining forces with Bow Street Runner Sam Kelly, Kendra must navigate the treacherous nineteenth century while she picks through the strands of Lady Dover’s life.

As the noose tightens around Alec’s neck, Kendra will do anything to save him, including following every twist and turn through London’s glittering ballrooms, where deception is the norm―and any attempt to uncover the truth will get someone killed."

Would it be THAT bad to be stuck in the Regency? 

Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer
Published by: HarperTeen
Publication Date: April 11th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo, Spindle Fire is an enthralling, wholly original reimagining of a classic faerie story.

Half sisters Isabelle and Aurora are polar opposites: Isabelle is the king’s headstrong illegitimate daughter, whose sight was tithed by faeries; Aurora, beautiful and sheltered, was tithed her sense of touch and voice on the same day. Despite their differences, the sisters have always been extremely close.

And then everything changes, with a single drop of Aurora’s blood, a Faerie Queen who is preparing for war, a strange and enchanting dream realm—and a sleep so deep it cannot be broken.

Spindle Fire is a tour-de-force fantasy set in the dwindling, deliciously corrupt world of the fae and featuring two truly unforgettable heroines, from a writer destined to be a major voice in YA."

Interesting using the name Aurora... but more importantly, yes, I am a fan of Leigh Bardugo and I love that cover so yes I'll be buying this book. 

Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey
Published by: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: April 11th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"One of Entertainment Weekly’s 35 Most Anticipated YA Novels of 2017, this compelling and witty Regency romance is perfect for readers who like their historical fiction with a side of intrigue.

Lydia Whitfield has her future entirely planned out. She will run the family estate until she marries the man of her late father's choosing, and then she will spend the rest of her days as a devoted wife. Confident in those arrangements, Lydia has tasked her young law clerk, Robert Newton, to begin drawing up the marriage contracts. Everything is going according to plan.

Until the day Lydia is kidnapped―and Robert along with her. Someone is after her fortune and won't hesitate to destroy her reputation to get it. With Robert's help, Lydia strives to keep her family's name unsullied and expose the one behind this devious plot. But as their investigation delves deeper and their affections for each other grow, Lydia starts to wonder whether her carefully planned future is in fact what she wants...

Fans of historical romance will delight in Duels and Deception, a young adult novel from Cindy Anstey, author of Love, Lies and Spies." 

Regency Romance, I'm in. 

Abigale Hall by Lauren A. Forry
Published by: Skyhorse Publishing
Publication Date: April 11th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 376 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Amid the terror of the Second World War, seventeen-year-old Eliza and her troubled little sister Rebecca have had their share of tragedy, having lost their mother to the Blitz and their father to suicide. Forced to leave London to work for the mysterious Mr. Brownwell at Abigale Hall, they soon learn that the worst is yet to come. The vicious housekeeper, Mrs. Pollard, seems hell-bent on keeping the ghostly secrets of the house away from the sisters and forbids them from entering the surrounding town—and from the rumors that circulate about Abigale Hall. When Eliza uncovers some blood-splattered books, ominous photographs, and portraits of a mysterious woman, she begins to unravel the mysteries of the house, but with Rebecca falling under Mrs. Pollard’s spell, she must act quickly to save her sister, and herself, from certain doom.

Perfect for readers who hunger for the strange, Abigale Hall is an atmospheric debut novel where the threat of death looms just beyond the edge of every page. Lauren A. Forry has created a historical ghost story where the setting is as alive as the characters who inhabit it and a resonant family drama of trust, loyalty, and salvation."

I hunger for the strange! I also adore that cover.

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: April 11th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the #1 bestselling author of The Historian comes an engrossing novel that spans the past and the present—and unearths the dark secrets of Bulgaria, a beautiful and haunted country.

A young American woman, Alexandra Boyd, has traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, hoping that life abroad will salve the wounds left by the loss of her beloved brother. Soon after arriving in this elegant East European city, however, she helps an elderly couple into a taxi—and realizes too late that she has accidentally kept one of their bags. Inside she finds an ornately carved wooden box engraved with a name: Stoyan Lazarov. Raising the hinged lid, she discovers that she is holding an urn filled with human ashes.

As Alexandra sets out to locate the family and return this precious item, she will first have to uncover the secrets of a talented musician who was shattered by political oppression—and she will find out all too quickly that this knowledge is fraught with its own danger.

Elizabeth Kostova’s new novel is a tale of immense scope that delves into the horrors of a century and traverses the culture and landscape of this mysterious country. Suspenseful and beautifully written, it explores the power of stories, the pull of the past, and the hope and meaning that can sometimes be found in the aftermath of loss."

A new Elizabeth Kostova!?! Finally!?! Please be like The Historian and NOT like The Swan Thieves. 

The Night the Lights Went Out by Karen White
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: April 11th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the New York Times bestselling author of the Tradd Street series comes a stunning new novel about a young single mother who discovers that the nature of friendship is never what it seems....

Recently divorced, Merilee Talbot Dunlap moves with her two children to the Atlanta suburb of Sweet Apple, Georgia. It’s not her first time starting over, but her efforts at a new beginning aren’t helped by an anonymous local blog that dishes about the scandalous events that caused her marriage to fail.

Merilee finds some measure of peace in the cottage she is renting from town matriarch Sugar Prescott. Though stubborn and irascible, Sugar sees something of herself in Merilee—something that allows her to open up about her own colorful past.

Sugar’s stories give Merilee a different perspective on the town and its wealthy school moms in their tennis whites and shiny SUVs, and even on her new friendship with Heather Blackford. Merilee is charmed by the glamorous young mother’s seemingly perfect life and finds herself drawn into Heather's world.

In a town like Sweet Apple, where sins and secrets are as likely to be found behind the walls of gated mansions as in the dark woods surrounding Merilee’s house, appearance is everything. But just how dangerous that deception can be will shock all three women...."

I seriously need to read some Karen White...

Friday, April 7, 2017

Book Review - Ursula K. Le Guin's The Tombs of Atuan

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published by: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: 1971
Format: Hardcover, 422 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Tenar doesn't remember her life before. A life filled with love and apple trees. She has even forgotten her name. She is the One Priestess of the Tombs reborn in the service of The Nameless Ones. She is now Arha, "the eaten one." Her life of abnegation began at six. Lonely and cold and devoid of friends her days are filled with worship and dark rituals to The Nameless Ones, who dwell beneath the hall of the throne in the place of the tombs. Each day is much the same, passing in routine and ritual in windowless rooms. When she is fifteen, a year after crossing into womanhood and coming into her full powers, she is finally permitted into the undertomb. What should be a wonderful experience, entering her true domain of the tombs and the labyrinth that follows becomes one of her worst memories as she was brought there to punish prisoners of the Godking. Prisoners she leaves to starve to death.

This memory is like ashes in her mouth and she withdraws from the world above of petty conflicts and power struggles seeking comfort in the tombs and in the labyrinth beyond. It is there that her endless days of monotony suddenly change. For it is there she sees a Wizard! She knows instantly what he is and that he is there to steal from her, seeking the long-lost half of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. The magical ring which, once whole, will bring peace to all of Earthsea. But for now he has brought light into the darkness, her darkness, and she traps him behind the iron door at the start of the labyrinth. Yes, the Ring is in the labyrinth but only Arha can navigate it. So the labyrinth shall be the wizard's tomb, if Arha decides to let him die. She is oddly fascinated with this man. She has lived all her life in seclusion with females all with only one point of view. Here is an outsider who has a different viewpoint and who might just open her eyes. But has Tenar lived in the dark for too long?

There are books that you struggle with initially but eventually pay off in such spectacular fashion that all that you went through was worth it. The Tombs of Atuan is just such a book. Reading the Earthsea series consecutively like I did The Tombs of Atuan is a drastic shift from A Wizard of Earthsea. It's far more formal with a dense backstory about Godkings and Nameless Ones and religion. Not to mention that Arha is hard to initially relate to. She's very standoffish. But you just have to get under her skin, get past all her training that stripped her personality away and watch as she struggles to become someone she can like. As many have pointed out, this is basically the companion story to Ged's journey to becoming a Wizard in A Wizard of Earthsea, what with shifting from a male to a female protagonist. But I think it's so much more. Yes, you could say it's because I'm a girl so that I could relate more, but I felt like Le Guin took Tenar on a greater journey than she did with Ged. Yes Ged traveled and ran from his mistake, but Tenar was there day after day facing her mistake and working out who she was. It was a far more satisfying journey. Sometimes it's about inner change more than anything that makes a story work.

What also helped was that while Ged was important, he was put on the back burner. He wasn't the focus at all just a conduit for Tenar's change. What I find fascinating with this decision of Le Guin's is that she takes a character that we know well after reading A Wizard of Earthsea and makes him mysterious again. Yes, some time has elapsed and he has aged, but he's still Sparrowhawk. Seeing him though Tenar's eyes makes you feel like you're seeing him for the first time all over again. While I do love series where I can follow the entire journey of the characters I love from beginning to end, this time lapse that Le Guin utilizes makes this second book so fresh that I actually heart it way more than the first volume. You could guess what Ged was up to down in the labyrinth and all his plans, but in the end, everything that happened to him hinged on what Tenar did. Seeing her fascinated with and then eventually coming to trust Ged makes you, as a reader, more fascinated with Ged than you ever have before. It's interesting that in stepping back you see more clearly. Personally, I didn't want this story to end. They could have stayed in that maze forever just talking.

Yet it wasn't just the change in perspective that made The Tombs of Atuan so compulsively readable, it was that the location changed and with it the style. Earthsea is basically a generic fantasy land that is predominately water. Yes, it's kind of an unfair generalization, because each island is so unique, but as a whole it's built from the blueprints of other fantasy stories. Here the basis is less fantasy and more adventure. More H. Rider Haggard and Elizabeth Peters. Dusty old cultures whose bloodthirsty customs are a danger to the more enlightened times we are now in. Once I realized and embraced this I came to adore this book. I think this was where I had problems initially connecting. This book is SO different from it's predecessor that it's kind of a culture shock. But what makes it amazing is all the ways it's different from A Wizard of Earthsea. I felt like I was reading some of my favorite Egyptian stories about gods and temples and a plucky heroine. Add to that an underground maze that is so awesome and has so many connotations from all different mythologies and made me think of everything from Labyrinth to Jim Henson's The Storyteller and this book appealed to both the child and the adult in me. I only wish I had read it sooner.

Though the reveal of the connection between Ged's and Tenar's stories is what just blew me away. I have to fully admit that I was reading these books while sick so I might have been a bit slow on the uptake, but when I realized who exactly were Tenar's Gods I was in awe. Yet again did Le Guin make the known mysterious. In A Wizard of Earthsea Ged is fighting an Unnamed force. Victory is achieved by naming it. Tenar is in service to The Nameless Ones. In other words, literally, another way of saying Unnamed. Please do not mock my inability to connect them immediately, as I said, I was sick, but also I think the way the story is written it's made to ingeniously hide something in plain sight. None of Tenar's beliefs seem evil or dangerous at first, so why would her Gods be dangerous? It's only as she grows and learns that it becomes obvious that her Gods might not be kind ones. To then learn they are the world destroying evil that Ged faced? Epic reveal. Plus, it's rather an indictment on religion. To learn that you are serving the forces of darkness? That could quite mess with your mind.

Which leads to the message of The Tombs of Atuan, the very heart of it's maze. This book is all about guilt and redemption. Tenar, in sentencing those prisoners to death set herself on a path. A path she didn't like. The way she takes care of and treats Ged, keeping her prisoner alive and eventually freeing him breaks her chains. She is able to redeem herself through doing an act of kindness, by doing good. While she didn't know that the forces she served were malign, she was able to search her own conscience and realized that what she did didn't make her feel good. Think of the power this book would have on a young reader. If you are trapped in a bad situation there is always hope. There is always a chance to make tomorrow better. I know it might be trite, but it's so true that reading opens your mind. Reading makes you more empathetic, more able to feel and understand and just get it. That's why I never trust people who say they don't like reading. They are shutting themselves off from feeling from becoming the best human being they can be. Read this book and I dare you not to be moved to be better to do better to question everything and to find the right path for yourself.

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