THE OTHER WIND
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In the late 60s and early 70s, Ursula Le Guin wrote a trilogy of novels about the wizard Ged. After finishing his story in The Farthest Shore, it appeared as if Le Guin has said all she needed to say about him and his world. Eighteen years later, she continued Gedís story in Tehanu, subtitled, The Last Book of Earthsea. This, too, was a false conclusion, for Le Guin was enticed into writing short stories of Earthsea, which were collected in 2001 and inspired her to write a fifth novel, The Other Wind.
The novel begins with a visit by the mender Alder to Ged to understand why he is not only able to visit the land of the of the dead, but also to interact with the dead, most especially his wife. Although Le Guin uses the meeting to set both Alderís journey and her plot in motion, the main thrust of The Other Wind is more philosophical. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that the various stories and legends told by the different cultures of Earthsea only reflect portions of the truth they attempt to explain. Furthermore, Le Guin is more than happy to imply that even by combining the different legends, the reader will be unable to form the ultimate truth, which differs from the way in which Earthsea had previously been presented.
One concept that is repeated throughout the novel, whether in the depictions of the main events or in the recounting of Earthsea legends, is the idea that people must make choices and then accept the consequences (or make choices to attempt to alter those consequences). This is most notable, perhaps in the discussions featuring the veiled princess Seserakh, who is a stranger to the islands of the archipelago and who brings the fresh perspective of one from the land of the Kargs. Not only does Seserakh present a fresh and disturbing portrait of the archipelago, but she also allows Le Guin to show a clash of cultures and legends.
Throughout the novel, Le Guin refers back to events which were described in the previous novels and stories about Ged and Earthsea, however, while knowledge of those books is helpful, it is not necessary for the enjoyment of understanding of The Other Wind. Le Guinís use of these referents is such that the allusions provide all the backstory the reader needs, which hinting that additional details are available for those who wish to pursue the events she describes.
If The Other Wind does suffer, it is because the themes Le Guin is developing in this novel (and which follow rather naturally from themes developed in the earlier books), have a tendency to upstage the plot and characterizations Le Guin is portraying. This combination makes The Other Wind less of a juvenile novel than the original trilogy, but more substantial from the point of one who truly wishes to contemplate the complexities of legend and death as Le Guin presents them.
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