Gifts by Ursula Le Guin

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Ursula Le Guin, the award winning author of the Earthsea series, once again delivers a rich and absorbing tale that will appeal to fantasy lovers. Gifts is set in a mythical slave owning land called the Uplands, reminiscent of early Scotland. The two main characters, Orrec and Gry, have grown up believing that the prosperity and safety of their domains depends on inherited gifts that have been passed down through the generations. Orrec is late coming into the gift of the Caspros, that of the terrifiying power to “undo” or destroy, people, places and animals. When his gift of “undoing“ surfaces, he is unable to control it and his father blindfolds him so that he cannot see to destroy things at random with his wild gift. Gry has the ability to call animals to her and must decide whether she will follow her mother’s example and bring animals into the hunt to be killed.

Le Guin slowly builds up a vivid picture of a world that has been dominated by Brantors who depend on inborn gifts to control their lands and the people who work for them. The technique of having her characters tell stories to and answer the questions of a runaway man from the Lowlands is a useful device to help describe their situation. Le Guin subtly guides her reader through the moral dilemmas that face her two teenage protagonists. The use and misuse of both supernational and natural gifts and talents is explored as the two young protagonists mature in outlook and experience the grief and joy that these gifts can bring. They also must come to grips with their growing feelings for each other which conflict with family demands to marry not for love but to keep their lineage pure and hand on their gifts to the next generation.

Voices is the second book in the series. Highly recommended.

Pat Pledger