I fucking love Library of America’s hardback editions of writer’s work. Like, honestly, I think they are some of the most excellent objects in existence and I really wish there was a reliable – equally beautiful, equally comprehensive – equivalent of literature from other cultures.
Here I go with another one, yet again Ursula K. Le Guin.
It’s strange, I suppose, that the first time I read Le Guin way back in 2014 or 15 or 2013 (who knows? a lifetime ago, my lifetime ago; I’m old, I’m old, the lifetime of a small but not even tiny child ago; the lifetime of two rabbits ago; how long does a rabbit live? I don’t know) I hated it. How things change.
Annals of the Western Shore is a young adult trilogy published during the mid-noughties, a time in which I probably would have – maybe – been a little “too old” to enjoy these books. Then again, I was quite an immature youth.
The books are called Gifts (2004), Voices (2006) and Powers (2007) and to be blunt they are a little bit dull, but they’re definitely not unenjoyable.
Dull, I mean, compared to other Le Guin I’ve read recently – Malafrena, which is a fucking masterpiece; and obviously the Earthsea cycle which I have read most but not all of. Compared to those, though, any novel is likely to feel a little flat.
I also loved that one about reality-changing wish fulfilment but I can’t remember what it was called off the top of my head – wait, The Lathe of Heaven, maybe, I think it was The Lathe of Heaven… I’ll have to look it up and then link to the post I wrote about it when I’m not walking along and using speech-to-text again, which seems to be a new thing I do, even though every time I do this, the resultant text is full of weird typos that I then I have to try and decipher when I look at it 3 weeks, 4 weeks, later (because I’m really not on top of keeping this blog updated. Of course, this is reflected in the readership, which is plummeting, like my mental health at the moment, tbf tbh with you, reader.
Gifts is about a young lad who lives on a farm in the shithole middle of nowhere. Everyone who lives in this part of the world (this is the western shore of an otherwise-vague fantasy world) has like magical powers of some sort. Well, not everyone, but most people, actually no, not even most people, just most of the people who are like in charge of “houses”. The powers are hereditary, generational privilege stuff thing. But this boy, this lad Orrec, he is meant to have a gift where he can basically kill people or animals by looking at them (which is the power his father has), but he doesn’t have this gift, he’s instead just really good at remembering things and telling stories so he becomes a storyteller.
Voices is about a young woman who lives in a city that’s been overrun by a pretty racistly-depicted version of a fantasy-ISIS-caliphate-type-thing that bans and burns old books and it’s about a young woman who lives in the last secret library of the city. Eventually the booklovers win the day.
Powers is about a slave boy in a very very rich house. The slave boy has an older sister he and his older sister were kidnapped by slave takers from a marshland where people are “a bit different to the folks in the city”. He has a power, too: he’s phenomenal at remembering things, he can even sometimes remember things that haven’t happened yet… However, this doesn’t really become a major plot point in the novel, which feels weird: it’s a bit like a never-fired Chekhovian gun; a Chekhovian gun that is never fired…
So, when the slave boy’s sister is brutally and sadistically murdered by the young lord of the house, the boy runs away and with his great memory for anecdotes, gags, songs and stories, he easily makes friends with other runaway slaves who he finds living in a forest, however these people turn out to be pretty fucking corrupt, too, and basically also kidnap and sexually assault young women, so the slave boy is kicked out because the evil Robin Hood type leader-guy feels very sexually jealous because everyone prefers the young boy because he’s not fundamentally evil. He then traveks to find where he and his sister were kidnapped from – I’m making this sound less dull than I found it while reading it, that was a mean thing I said it before – so, anyway, this guy goes back to where he and his sister were kidnapped from as children and he finds out that basically all of his family there are dead, so he lives with an uncle for a bit, then someone abuses him (not sexually, but psychologically, physically: starving him to near-death) in a failed attempt to hone the boy’s ability to “remember the future”.
Anyway, eventually he is rescued by his aunt and sent away, so he travels to find Orrec (from Gifts) who is now a super famous poet living in a city outside of the part of this world that has slaves, and on his way the former slave boy finds one of the young women who had been one of the children of the “harem” of the sinister Robin Hood type, and as they travel together towards this free city in the North, the slave boy realises that he is being chased down by the most favoured slave from the place he ran away way back near the start of the novel, but then they escape and that’s the end, so, yeah, so… that’s why I kind of found it felt a bit dull.
Just… the, the, threat was never really close enough.
The was more narrative tension when the boy was trapped in the abusive relationship with the supposéd teacher claiming to “level up” his powers in the marshland.
Anyway, Annals of the Western Shore was fun. It was fun.
I suppose it was enjoyable.
It wasn’t very gripping, as I said the sense of threat wasn’t crazy hard there, it’s not as exciting as Earthsea, it’s not as powerful as Malafrena but it’s solid.
I had a nice time and I will certainly continue reading more of these massive library of America Editions of Ursula K Le Guin. Thank you.
Written early October.