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Ursula K. Le Guin
Harcourt, 288 pages

Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin was born in 1929, the daughter of a writer and an anthropologist. She published her first novel, Rocannon's World, in 1966. Her fourth novel, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, a feat she repeated with The Dispossessed (1974). The Earthsea trilogy established her as a master of fantasy as well as science fiction. She has also published poetry and short story collections, and she received the Pilgrim Award in 1989 for her critical writings.

Ursula K. Le Guin Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Lathe of Heaven
SF Site Review: Tales from Earthsea
SF Site Review: The Telling
SF Site Interview: Ursula K. Le Guin
SF Site Review: The Other Wind
SF Site Review: The Telling
SF Site Review: The Dispossessed

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

Gifts Orrec and Gry have grown up in the harsh world of the Uplands. Here there is poverty and hardship and a heroic past, where each family has a gift, some terrible, some helpful. Gry can call the animals to her, and Orrec can unmake anything he sets his eyes upon. Both are expected to use their gifts to help their respective families and marry in ways that will keep the family blood, and therefore the gift, which is passed down father-son, mother-daughter, strong. It takes some time for Orrec to develop his gift, but when he does he discovers that it is uncontrollable, and he willingly accepts it when his father places a blindfold over his eyes. So terrified that he'll kill someone he loves, he refuses to lift it for anything. Gry also has problems with her gift. It, too, is very strong, but she hates it when she's expected to use it to call animals to the slaughter.

Gifts is about a couple of things. The minor thing is the bond these two young people have. From childhood on, they always understood and loved each other. This bond, I think, is what gave them the strength to be different. The second theme, the major one, is about moral choices. Both these gifts are, in their own ways, terrible things. But they are also things that help the family. Calling the animals brings food to the table. Being able to terrify the enemy with the thought that they can be unmade protects the family. Do they have the right not to use their gifts to help the people they love? Does their family really have a right to force them to do things that they hate because it will help the greater good? And who decides which is the greater good? Just as, you can say, how does one know that the gift has to be used the way everyone says? Has time and need warped it?

The text has a really interesting feel to it. I was reminded a little of Scotland, though this book doesn't take place on Earth. We're brought into a rough world, but we're given light. Orrec's mother, Melle, is from the south. Her own story of how she came to meet and marry her husband is, in itself, very folkloric, blending in well with the tales of wonder she tells Orrec and Gry, who she regards as her own daughter.

This story is thoughtful and well told, filled with equal measures of wonder and sorrow. It's a very fast read, but, for many days afterward, some of it still remains with the reader.

Copyright © 2004 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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