Book Review

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

in the relentless cold I seek escape

As promised barely a month ago, I have returned to the world of Earthsea and to its easy, fantasy, uncomplicated comforts. I needed to. I needed to.


I popped over the border to the USA last weekend, just for a few hours, to briefly visit Detroit. I went to the Detroit Institute of Art, which was fun, and then to John K. King, a massive, multi-floored warehouse building that is rumoured to be the largest second hand bookshop in the world. I have already implied an untruth here: visiting John K. King was the entire reason why I wanted to go to Detroit, because I love to read books and (as an underemployed poet who moves around too much to get a library card) secondhand is the way to go.

Re my underemployment, I’ve lost a significant source of anticipated income recently as the review copy I’d secured of Fernando Sdrigotti’s latest novel (Grey Tropic, written with Martin Dean, published by Dostoevsky Wannabe) turned out to be a fucking pdf rather than the paperback I had planned to hawk on Amazon, where it’s possible to pay almost £1000 for some of his previous books. Note I say “pay for”: I don’t know if the books sell at these prices, but it was nice to think that a fat chunk might be coming my way. Alas, though, it was not to be: nobody wants to buy a pdf for £800, not even if I include the personalised semi-abusive email that came attached to it. Or it came attached to. I don’t know.

I survived the polar vortex and I survived an afternoon in the USA which included an hour or so waiting within the offices of the border force (or whatever they’re called) due to it not being encouraged for non-Canadians to cross into the country by land. They let me out, $20 lighter, but I can now enter and exit the USA as many times as I want to until mid-April. I don’t have any plans to do so, so I might make some. There’s a bus to New York. Maybe I’ll get that and go do some spoken word open mics. “Bald pated but still gold plated.”

A spoken word open mic isn’t something I’ve managed to do here yet. There are lots in Toronto, and every weekend I trawl the internet and add them all to my fucking Google Calendar, but by the time they come around I’ve been too cold and tired and depressed to leave the flat, particularly as I’ve been staying out in the ‘burbs where it takes longer to get to public transport than it does in my end-of-the-line hometown, which is saying something. Getting to the subway is a struggle when it’s snowing and there’s already snow on the ground. Getting dressed to go outside takes three times as long as getting dressed usually takes because there are so many layers for so many parts of the body. Also my dog needs to have his little booties put on, which is only slowly becoming easier.

I’m still looking for a job, though I have some work; I’ve moved to somewhere much more central today, so getting extra casual work should be a lot easier from now on, and being busy begets being busy, doesn’t it, so hopefully I should be able to find a proper job and get back on top of submitting poetry once I’m getting paid a little bit more than I am. Or a lot more. Munny munny munny lol.

Anyway, feeling a bit sorry for myself and – justifiably – quite emotionally-drained after reading Lawrence Hill’s impressive The Book of Negroes, I decided to ignore the long-standing pile of books I shipped over the Atlantic, and instead looked into my bulging sack of literary goodies that I bought in Detroit (and declared at the border like a good boy!). There was only one book that wouldn’t be difficult, and wouldn’t be depressing, and it was this, The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin. I really enjoyed A Wizard of Earthsea when I read it in December, depressed and cold and stressed in England. I’m less stressed now, but I’m much much much colder and probably about as depressed, so it felt fair to give myself the gift of simple fiction to cheer myself up. It worked, of course, but not as quickly as I’d hoped it would.

A Wizard of Earthsea is a novel filled with lots and lots of little adventures, with one long adventure pootling along in the background – like the first season of Luther, like Doctor Who when I was young enough to watch it, probably like Star Trek or something too: episodic, but building, like. The Tombs of Atuan, however, is one single adventure, set almost entirely on one singular Earthsea island, and it is only at the very end of the novel that we even see the sea and begin to sail on it. The novel is from the third person perspective of Tenar, a child who is the reincarnated Chief Priestess (Dalai Lama stylee) of a massive tomb, temple and labyrinth complex on one of Earthsea’s most massive islands. She is taught from childhood how to serve ancient gods, but there are newer gods and rival gods and rumours of sorcerers from faraway lands who she is told to fear because they might try to steal the treasures hidden in the labyrinth. Of course, a wizard turns up and breaks into the labyrinth and, yes, it is Ged/Sparrowhawk from the previous book. Is Tenar evil? Is she good? Can she escape those she serves? Is Sparrowhawk actually able to do magic? Will they escape once the demons of the labyrinth discover their presence?

Yes, of course they will. Slower to get “going” (i.e. plotty) than A Wizard of Earthsea, but entertaining enough until it does kick off then a great, pounding, adventure once it’s cracking. Exactly the kind of solid, unthreatening, easy, distracting, read I needed before I begin another heady week of applying for jobs I’m definitely qualified for but don’t know how to say that convincingly.

See you around, readers…

On November 14th 2018, I launched my first book, Bad Boy Poet, in the basement of Burley Fisher Books, Dalston. Here are some of the songs and poems I performed:

Order Bad Boy Poet from the publisher here.

Order Bad Boy Poet with free Worldwide Shipping from The Book Depository here.

Order Bad Boy Poet from Amazon/Waterstones/Hive/Foyles etc if you’d prefer.

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2 comments on “The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

  1. Pingback: Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin – Triumph Of The Now

  2. Pingback: Tales from Earthsea by Ursula le Guin – Triumph Of The Now

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