The tale of the "Tombs of Atuan," is the second book in the Earthsea Cycle and begins a few years after Ged's adventures combating the "shadow" force. In Atuan, part of the Kargish lands, a little girl, Tenar, was chosen at birth to assume the role of One Priestess of the Tombs of Atuan, where the ancient Nameless Ones are said to dwell. The nine tombs had stood there, since the time of the first man, since Earthsea was created. "They were the tombs of those who ruled before the world of men came to be, the ones not named, and she who served them had no name." When Tenar was five years-old, she was taken from her parents and formerly given to the Nameless Ones, her life until death was dedicated to them - the old gods. She was to become the High Priestess, reborn, of an ancient religion. And now she has no other name but Arha, the Eaten One.
Her days are all the same, spent learning the endless rites and lore important to her position. Arha is separated from other neophytes, who have been sent to serve various gods, and soon grows bored and restless. Beneath her dwelling place, under the Throne and the Tombs, lies a vast labyrinth where hidden treasures are stored. She had been introduced to the hidden passageways when she reached her teens and now spends her days, alone, exploring this dark underground maze. It is here that one day she comes upon an intruder. Since it is forbidden for anyone else to walk under the Tombs, or to show light there, she is at first incredulous to see the area illuminated for the first time, and to note the presence of a stranger who stands where even other priestesses are forbidden. It is Ged who is there to recover a most priceless treasure - and to offer the young woman a wider destiny if she wishes it.
The author emphasizes that Arha must make a decision whether or not to free herself from a dying cult - from the weight and darkness of the Nameless Ones. She must decide whether she is willing to work to recover her identity and her name. Ms. Le Guin again underscores the power of names that she introduced in "A Wizard of Earthsea," along with the themes of light and shadow, good and evil. She is a truly exceptional writer, whose lyrical and poetic narrative and extraordinary descriptive passages bring her characters and landscapes vividly to life.