****Trigger warnings for the following: Rape (implied and off page), incest,some ableist language and death of a spouse****
Well here we are. We’ve come full circle. And I have many feelings. Honestly, despite my clear love of Ursula K. Le Guin’s work, I had no idea when I started this series just how much of an impact this would make on me and now, I can honestly say I never want to leave Earthsea.
Years ago, they had escaped together from the sinister Tombs of Atuan—she, an isolated young priestess; he, a powerful wizard. Now she is a farmer’s widow, having chosen for herself the simple pleasures of an ordinary life. And he is a broken old man, mourning the powers lost to him through no choice of his own.
Once, when they were young, they helped each other at a time of darkness and danger and shared an adventure like no other. Now they must join forces again, to help another in need — the physically and emotionally scarred child whose own destiny has yet to be revealed
When I reviewed the previous book in the series, I mentioned how for many that is considered the conclusion to the original story of Ged and his adventures of Earthsea. Considering the time between The Farthest Shore and Tehanu, anyone who had been following her work for so long would be right to assume that was the end. But this, truly felt like the conclusion we needed.
We are back of course where it all started, Gont. And we are back with Tenar, now known as Goha to the Gontish people she married among. Honestly, I loved Tenar a lot for the simple realism she brought to the story while also struggling with something that is very real for people who have lived under such a sheltered rule. I was glad to see she had chosen to make a life for herself on Gont, marry a husband, have children, lose said husband and become Goha. There is a very interesting point later between Ged and Tenar where he reminds her that she could have been the first woman mage, she had Ogion, she had the power, she had everything available. But Tenar reminds Ged very quickly that for the first time in her life, it was her choice alone. That to me, is the most important thing of Tenar’s story.
Something the story juggles and discusses a lot is gender. It’s no secret that Le Guin’s writing of gender was ahead of it’s time in many ways and particularly for a woman in such a high place in SFF. But here it’s really confronted by Tenar. She is clearly more powerful than a common witch (“weak as a woman’s magic, wicked as a woman’s magic” is a phrase used a lot in the story) and can even converse with the dragon, Kallesin, in the Old Speech. This is pretty unknown outside of wizards and dragons and does take years of study but she manages it. Reality didn’t cease to exist because a woman conversed with a dragon.
This book is hell of a lot darker than any of the others. The story opens with Tenar helping a local Gontish woman try and safe a young girl who was raped by her fellow clan members and thrown live into a fire. She is named Therru (flame in Kargish) and Tenar tries her best to raise the girl in some form of normality and to try and help her recover from the horrific way she was treated. The girl is left physically scarred and affected by this (again like the start, definitely some out of date language used to discuss her disabilities) forever, barely speaking and only learning to trust men once Ged comes back. The story concludes wonderfully with Therru given back a hell of a lot more agency but it is worth knowing in advance that these are in the story.
You’re probably wondering how I made it this far without even mentioning Ged. That’s because this isn’t his story. It’s the story of those left behind. Women, widows, witches, the disabled and the older people. This is the story of anyone who the big fantasy epics left behind and forgot about after we left the last page. I honestly really enjoyed the direction this book took, you could truly tell that Le Guin was in a very different place in life writing this. While we still see Ged and he is still a big part of the story, his story is over and this ends his, and Tenar’s, stories so they can enjoy the rest of their lives. Together in peace.
Thank you to everyone who has read these reviews and followed my journey to read the series I started so I can truly experience them. Earthsea is honestly after this one of my favourite series of all time. I know I do have The Other Wind and Tales of Earthsea left still in this world but for now, I’m thrilled to have finished this amazing series. I’ll be posting an update to the TBR project and I’ll discuss the series at length in it’s own post hopefully but in the mean time, thanks for checking in! Happy reading!