Saturday, 18 November 2006

Book Review: Gifts (Ursula Le Guin)

Is this a record of some sort? I think it's the 8th consecutive book review I've done, consistently every week. I suppose it helps that I've been so busy at work that I've reverted back to my old habits of reading a book everywhere and anytime I can - eating, waiting or er.. driving - and this has helped me finish a lot of books lately (not to mention destress at the same time).

Or maybe it's because the books I've been finishing lately have been really easy to read. Oh well, whatever goes I suppose...

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Title: Gifts (Book 1 of The Annals of the Western Shore)
Author: Ursula Le Guin


Synopsis (from Amazon.co.uk):
Orrec is the son of the Brantor of Caspromant; Gry the daughter of the Brantors of Barre and Rodd. They have grown up together in neighbouring domains, running half-wild across the Uplands. The people of the domains are like their land: harsh and fierce and prideful; ever at war with one or other of their neighbours, raiding cattle, capturing serfs, enlarging their holdings. It is only the gifts that keep a fragile peace.

The gifts are powers, given to protect the domains: they run from father to son and from mother to daughter. The Barre gift is calling animals. The women of Cordemant have the power of blinding, or making deaf, or taking away speech. The Rodds can send a spellknife into a man's heart, or cut his throat, or maim as they please, if he's in sight. Olm can set a fire burning at any place they can see and point to. The Callems can move heavy things by word and gesture - even buildings, even hills. And Brantor Ogge of Drummant has the gift of slow wasting. The Caspro gift is the worst and best of all: it is the gift of undoing: an insect, an animal, a place ...

Orrec and Gry are the heirs to Caspro and Barre. Gry's gift runs true, but unlike her mother, she will not use it to call animals for the hunt. Orrec too is a problem, for his gift of undoing is wild: he cannot control it - and that is the most dangerous gift of all ...

What I Liked:
  • Very much character-driven, and the characters are well-developed
  • Le Guin doesn't waste time describing scenery much, like a lot of authors tend to do
  • Easy to read
  • The plot is well-paced, and not a single dull moment, even though action is at a premium
  • Story is intriguing enough to keep you reading on and on
  • I like the different gifts, and how each gift has its uses in keeping the peace around the Uplands

What I Didn't Like:
  • Story a little predictable
  • Finished it too quickly. :-(

Summary:
I like this book. The story in Gifts is fairly simple and straightforward, and focuses very much on the characters rather than the gifts themselves, or the plot for that matter. It's almost as if the plot was secondary to the development of the characters.

Or maybe it was because the development of the characters IS the plot itself.

It would be a shame if Le Guin spent all the time developing Orrec and Gyr and then finished the book just like that, but luckily, she has another book featuring them - Voices, and I think the series is gonna be a trilogy. Which is good, of course.

Another thing I like about Le Guin is that unlike SOME authors, she doesn't waste time endlessly describing every single leaf and rock in the scenery, merely skimming through the surface, telling us enough to get a good picture of the setting in our mind, but not too much until we forget about the chracters.

Of course, the fact that for most of the book we are seeing things from the 1st person perspective of a blind Orrec also simplifies things a little in that aspect, i guess. heh.

Anyway, Le Guin is one of the best fantasy writers around right now (and yes, she's still alive), and this book, although written for a younger readership, is a perfect example of how a book really does not need a lot of gimmicks or elaborate settings to captivate a reader, just a good story and interesting characters.

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