on 29 October 2001
Hearing of this book was a surprise for me. I thought the main story ended with Tehanu. However, having read it I can see why LeGuin chose to take up this story again. There were simply more to discover in the world of Earthsea.
It is many years since I read the first four books, so I can not really say how well the style and plot of The Other Wind agree with them. I have heard people say that Tehanu ruined the Earthsea they knew and loved as kids, but I never felt that way myself. The same goes for this book.
The Other Wind contains the thing I love most about LeGuin's books - a plot that is character driven, yet never boring or slow. It also resolves plotlines left open from previous books to such an extent that I doubt that there will be a sequel. Those things made it a wonderful read for me. Highly recommended!
on 21 July 2003
I have recently embarked on the sumptuous project of re-reading childhood classics, and the Eartsea books especially have provided that gratifying sense of rediscovering a delight, while seeing new adult-related depths to it. To read them as wizard-adventures is to miss out on their almost Taoist meditations on death, freedom,fear - moving and noble themes.
All the Earthsea books I've rediscovered concern the painful relationship between the living and the Dry Land - our human fear and grief at the thought of dying and giving up everything here - and the destructive results of trying to avoid that fate. The Other Wind contains a redemption of sorts, and a redeemer. It is very interesting to draw parallels between this and Christian myths of redemption and death, because while Le Guin creates a salvation story of sorts, she rejects the dream of an afterlife of the type we are used to from the world religions.
Le Guin's narrative is such that these kinds of thoughts arise almost incidentally while reading the interesting, exciting, well-characterised tale (dragons!). The questions dealt with are large, the choices unforgiving, but theses are always tied to the personal dilemma of a character. This ensures that ideas never float around in the abstract and it becomes very easy to take the questions on personally.
The Earthsea world is as always deftly and evocatively described, and the language is so smooth and powerful that you can be transported even on a ten-minute bus journey. After I finished the book, its mood and ideas remained with me: a kind of sadness at the inevitable choices we face: freedom or possession; "to fly or to dwell", to give up what you love.
on 19 February 2004
When the sorcerer Alder shows up at Ged Sparrowhawk's door, his haunted tale tells of great changes coming, both for the living and the dead. Alder soon finds himself in the center of a storm, collecting around him the king of the Archipelago, a Kargan princess, dragons, wizards, and others. Back in the days of prehistory, a decision was made, and a land was stolen. Now what was broken must be fixed, and what was made must be broken. Earthsea will never be the same again...
This is quite a haunting book. Reading like a murder-mystery, the book drew me along, hoping to understand the enigma that Earthsea was groaning under. The book is short, and written with a clarity that demonstrates why Ursula Le Guin is considered one of the giants of the genre. If you are a fan of the Earthsea books, then I can't urge you enough to buy and read this book!
on 2 February 2013
This is a lovely book. It is one of Le Guin's best. It may be a "children's book", but there is a lot in it for everyone.
There is power. There is the glorious, terrifying joy and power of the dragons dancing on the bright wind of morning. Le Guin's dragons are one of her finest creations, probably the best treatment of these creatures that any author has ever achieved.
There is the contrasting dull power of control; the Hardic attempt to conquer death, which has only led to the creation of a sort of ghastly half-life-in-shadows that is now threatening to overwhelm the world, and drain all joy from it. This theme, that only by fully accepting mortality can people truly live, can perhaps be seen as Le Guin coming to terms with her own mortality, because of course she is no longer young. But in fact it has always been a central theme of her books. Consider the lovely Creation of Ea, from the very first of the Earthsea books, as long ago as 1968: "Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk's flight on the empty sky. " If that doesn't send a shiver up your spine, you're probably dead already. It was also prophetic, because in this, the final Earthsea book, she returns to this theme with even greater depth and power.
Finally, there is the story of how the young king Arren learns to properly wield his power. These passages, describing his discussions with his Council, are solid, mundane and completely believable to anyone who has ever sat in a committee and tried to get anything done. Le Guin manages to place fantasy in the context of perfectly believable places and people; no mean trick by any standards.
There is not one love story but three. There is the love between Alder and his dead wife Lily, which is so strong she can kiss him over the wall of stones that divides life from death. There is the love story between Arren and his princess, which begins unpromisingly enough, but blossoms gloriously towards the end of the book. Then there is the deepening bond between Ged, once Archmage, and Tenar, once a priestess of Atuan, now the "Woman of Gont".
Le Guin produces a more mature treatment of "the hero" than we often find in fantasy novels. Some reviewers have suggested Ged is a minor character in this book. In a sense he is. He is no longer a sorcerer, having spent all his power at the climax of "The Farthest Shore". But, in another sense, by his very absence he is paradoxically central. Precisely because he no longer stands at the centre of the action; because he is no longer the great hero who can sort everything out for people using his magical powers, they are obliged to do it for themselves, without some great deus-ex-machina father-figure to take the weight of life's responsibility off their hands. One or two of the characters comment rather wistfully that they wish he was there to help them, but he isn't, and they just have to get on with it without an Archmage, as indeed do we.
So far so good. These are only the raw materials. A lesser author could have created a rather dull, plodding, worthy sort of book from them. Le Guin's genius is that while she does full justice to her themes, she is a powerful enough author to handle such substantial materials with a wonderful lightness of touch, weaving them into a beautiful tapestry that shimmers and delights, creating a book that is a mesmerisingly good read from cover to cover. Sometimes she seems downright playful, simply enjoying her craft. She even finds room in it for a kitten. This is a book that could only have been written by an author who is not only massively talented, but is also at the top of her game, with the benefit of a lifetime's experience of the author's craft.
Read it. But it will not reward an attempt to skim it quickly. Read it slowly, and at the end of each chapter, pause and reflect. There is a great deal in this book. If you don't get very much out of it, it may be because you are not paying attention. If you do pay attention, it is a complete unalloyed delight, with enough joy to brighten the day, and enough hard wisdom to help enlighten it.
And wow! And even more wow! If you loved the Earthsea Quartet you'll be blown away by this sequel. It was more than worth waiting for. I read it twice through and can't wait to read it again, once it's been round the rest of the family. I always felt that the issues raised at the end of the Quartet were too big and powerful to just be left where they were and Ursula Le Guin obviously realised that too. This story takes the reader even deeper into Earthsea's past, present and future, explaining, expanding and finally resolving the stories of Tehanu, Tenar, Lebannen and Ged in the most spectacular and breath-taking way. What a story-teller she is! By the way, it would be helpful, but not essential to read the short stories, 'Tales from Earthsea' first. These are a sort of prequel to the sequel and extremely interesting in their own right.
on 6 May 2010
This is quite hard to call.
If you loved the original Earthsea trilogy mainly for its characters, stories and fantasy - the consuming world of Earthsea and its geography and magic - then I think you'll be disappointed with this book.
If, on the other hand, you liked the grander themes and ideas of those books, then this one does tie up and move on a bunch of those themes and ideas.
I'm tempted to say that in pursuing the mainly adult aspects of these stories, at the expense of the thrills of Ged's exploits, Ursula Le Guin like George Lucas, chose the wrong path - who did you prefer in the original Star Wars trilogy...Luke Skywalker or Han Solo?
However, that might be unfair. So I guess its better to say that Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea stories grew up and moved on to grander things, whereas I didn't.
on 29 October 2011
Ursula Le Guin is a writer who has been with me all my life, so to speak. I was drawn back into her wonderful books as the result of her intermittent reviews in The Guardian's book pages which are always searching and interesting. Not to mention beautifully written.
I find the revisiting of Earthsea utterly fascinating - much as I loved (as a child) The Wizard of Earthsea, the thing that fascinates is how Le Guin's roving intellect has moved away from magic to the very nature of humanity. The daughter of anthropologists (and how it shows) she dissects the very nature of society and gender in particular in this powerful and evocative tale. And yet she never loses the magic of narrative and tells a gripping and powerful story which makes her subtle observations something that creep under your skin and seep into your consciousness. I continue to be surprised by people who think she's just a writer of teenage fantasies, rather than one of our finest moral philosophers at the peak of her abilities.
When Ursuala LeGuin published 'Tehanu', it was clear that she was angry - angry at the world she had created for being a world of male wizards where women and the powers of earth had no true place in magic.
You can see this anger in the earlier stories of 'Tales from Earthsea', but the final story, 'Dragonfly', which is the prelude to this book, is a rediscovery of what Earthsea was about.
The single most important motif in the original Earthsea stories was the wall of stones which divides the living from the dead, and the effects of unwise traffic across that wall. Two subsidiary motifs were dragons and the old powers of the earth. LeGuin recaptures and develops the importance of these in 'The Other Wind' in a way which she failed to do in 'Tehanu'. This story is a story about what would happen if the wall of stones itself came under attack - if the dead, from their side, began to pull it down. The theme is powerful, and readily captures the imagination.
What this book doesn't recapture is the way the original Earthsea stories were put together - and the reason why they were so successful as children's stories to read and re-read. A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore are stories about growing up, about how children become adults. The first two are significant achievements in the genre. To achieve this, they are written through one set of eyes.
'The Other Wind' loses both the simplicity of a single narratorial point of view, and, crucially, contains no children. Here we meet our favourite characters again - Ged, Tenar, Lebannin, Tehanu and Orm Irian, but we do not spend enough time to ground the tale in their consciousness.
This is a good book, but a minor one. It is a story about Earthsea philosophy and rationale. What it lacks is the Aristotelean focus of 'what happens next?'
It does, though, open the door for more Earthsea books which we want to read, and which a child of any age could read. This was a door that Tehanu closed.
Intriguingly, the former wizard Ged dreams of a time _after_ the time he lost his power. Above all things, we would like to read another novel about Ged as wizard.
on 4 September 2002
I would not normally give 5 stars to a book unless it was a real classic, like Gormenghast for instance. No problem here, the prose is liquid and expressive, and there is not a wasted word in the book. And the problems it treats with have needed resolution since the first of the Earthsea books. The resolution is indeed very beautiful and very moving. Thank you, M/s LeGuin, for writing this book.
on 19 December 2015
This should be five stars because of Le Guin's wonderful prose, conjuring of place and powerfully memorable characters. That I rate it lower possibly says more about me, as the elegiac farewell (as far as we know) to this series leaves one with a sense of loss. We want more from all the characters, and one may feel that there is not enough of Ged. The point of that, of course, is that his tale has really been told and the right thing to happen is that he has found his place and his future and has no need to take a large part in the working out of fate. This does leave Tenar to fulfil more of her own significant destiny, along with the younger generation of denizens of the endlessly fascinating islands of Earthsea. In fact, the ending is a proper completion or scene-setting for the new lives to be lived after the story stops being told, but it leaves an ache, and the desire to know yet more about what lies beyond the horizons, what happens in the Isles of the Far North, how will the Kargs evolve, did the islands of the South recover, what about Ged's old friends in the East? The fact that all these things are so alive in the imagination is testament to the power of a master storyteller. It is five stars really, but I can't helping wishing for more.