Review: Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin

‘If women had power what would men be but women who can’t bear children? And what would women be but men who can?’

****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!

★★★★.5/5

Review: The Farthest Shore (The Earthsea Quartet) by Ursula K Le Guin

‘This is. And thou art. There is no safety. There is no end. The word must be heard in silence. There must be darkness to see the stars. The dance is always danced above the hollow place, above the terrible abyss.’

Look. It’s me, Hedwig/Kayleigh, still following a TBR I set myself. How you may I ask? I would like to say I have grown more consistent and better at time management but you all know it’s a lie. It’s because I started with possibly one of my new favourite series of all time and this one in particular made me cry. Read on to know why a 27 year old cried over an old wizard.

Darkness threatens to overtake Earthsea: the world and its wizards are losing their magic. Despite being wearied with age, Ged Sparrowhawk – Archmage, wizard, and dragonlord — embarks on a daring, treacherous journey, accompanied by Enlad’s young Prince Arren, to discover the reasons behind this devastating pattern of loss. Together they will sail to the farthest reaches of their world — even beyond the realm of death – as they seek to restore magic to a land desperately thirsty for it.

So this for some people is the end of the Earthsea original series since the next book, ‘Tehanu’ wasn’t published for another 18 years after this book and it follows Tenar as the protagonist. But this review isn’t about that. The Farthest Shore is one of the most wonderful, heartwarming books I’ve read this year. If you only read as far as it, I wager you would be satisfied with this wonderful series.

Similar to the previous story, we aren’t following Ged’s perspective but another younger character who’s story is directly tied to him. We meet Arren, the prince and heir to Enlad, on his way to Ged, now the Archmage on the island of Roke the home of the wizards of Earthsea. Once again we see Ged decades after the end of the previous story and further into his maturity. This time, Ged is a weary old man, unwilling to give into impulse and leave the magically secured island. As the conclusion to his story, this book truly delivers for a narrative and emotional standpoint.

I listened to this on audio book for the sake of convenience and I truly enjoyed it far more for it. The narrator, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, managed both the young lilt of Arren and the gravelly tone Ged now speaks with after many years of travel. His narration adds fantastically to the world building as Arren and Ged travel around the smaller islands of the archipelago where they meet those further and further away from the main civilisation. What I was really impressed with and that made me really feel the magical awe for Earthsea is how he narrates the dragons. That alone was some of my favourite parts of the audio book.

What really touched me however and is still living in my feelings at this moment in time is the relationship between Arren and Ged. We watch Ged again through the eyes of a young characters on the edge of their life and see just how much the wizard changes their life for the better, despite his world weary of himself. One moment that really tuck with me was at the start of the story was after Arren meets Ged for the first time he declares that he loves the wizard in that very meeting. Le guin being the great challenger of norms had me considering this as a more romantic love than a platonic one and I find it hard not to think that still.

Granted, if this was true this could very easily fall prey to the harmful trope of a younger queer man being groomed by a much older one. That to me is truly where the genius of Le Guin and her writing lies. She handles this in a way that it becomes clear as the novel goes on that the love Arren feels for Ged is more platonic and bordering on familial but as he matures, it could possibly be a teen falling “in love” with a role model. I could be grabbing at straws slightly here since Le Guin did tend to not queer bait or code her characters but I still thought it an interesting potential of their relationships.

The stakes are definitely higher in this book than any of the others in the series. Magic is literally dying. There are hundreds of people losing their gifts across this world and dying in many more as a result. Ged at one stage meeting a desperate wizard who has lost a limb and his life as a result of this happening being the true sign to him that this isn’t some silly task to please a prince. Magic is going missing and noone, even the dragons, know how. The eventual climax, meeting of the adversary of Ged causing this, not only brings the book to a very cathartic end but mirrors Ged’s mission of the first book beautifully. Sometimes callbacks can be a little cheap in endings so it can be hard to do but you really feel a strong sense that Ged has always been prepared for this.

I honestly can’t find a single complaint for the book or how it closes off Ged’s story. Where the usual things that would disengage me from a story (plots being fairly nonexistent for a chunk of the book, characters having very out of place emotional turns, convenient plot devices) but everything in this story served a purpose, no matter how small.

It’s taken me days to review this coherently so I hope it all makes sense. My TBR project has been going a little slower than I thought with being busy in work and generally being in a near slump. I am half dreading to finally finish with the last book but I know the satisfaction of finishing the series will be fabulous. Thanks for checking in, happy reading everyone!

★★★★★/5

Review: The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Quartet) by Ursula K.Le Guin

They do not die. They are dark and undying, and they hate the light: the brief, bright light of our mortality. They are immortal, but they are not gods. They never were.

If you follow me on any of my social medias or even have seen my most recent posts here on the blog, then you may know that I am holding myself accountable for finishing some series I started. This review is my first finished book of that I will be doing as part of that. I read A Wizard of Earthsea earlier this year and absolutely loved it. But what about the follow up book?

When young Tenar is chosen as high priestess to the ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth, everything is taken away – home, family, possessions, even her name. For she is now Arha, the Eaten One, guardian of the ominous Tombs of Atuan.

While she is learning her way through the dark labyrinth, a young wizard, Ged, comes to steal the Tombs’ greatest hidden treasure, the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. But Ged also brings with him the light of magic, and together, he and Tenar escape from the darkness that has become her domain

This is certainly a change in direction from the first novel in the series. For a start we have a new protagonist and we are on a totally different part of the archipelago of Earthsea. We have moved to the culture of the Kargish people, those who keep the Tombs Atuan. Our protagonist, Tenar, is taken to the tombs at age 5 and is made High Priestess to the Nameless Ones, being renamed ‘Arha’ (meaning ‘eaten one’) as part of the duty.

I thouroughly enjoyed seeing this side of the islands. Considering the Kargish people are a race of people with white skin and are seen as ‘savages’ by the Hardic folk for their religious theocracy and their distaste of reading and writing, it made for interesting worldbuilding. The atmosphere as always is perfect in Le Guin’s worlds. You really feel the isolation that Tenar faces here and the struggle of maintaining the duty that you were given while being expected to just know how to do the job.

While A Wizard of Earthsea functioned as a coming of age story for Ged, and we watched him grow from the impulsive spirited apprentice he was, to the powerful mage Sparrowhawk, we get a similar situation here with Tenar. Tenar is renamed Arha at the age of 5 when she taken away from her parents. The Kargish believing that the same High Priestess lives, dies and born again to serve the Nameless Ones. Tenar as a result is constantly struggling between her belief in the Nameless Ones and how she is proud to serve them to the endless questioning of what lies out there.

Her eventual meeting with Ged is genuinely some of the best moments in the book. You see Tenar confronted with everything she has been conditioned to believe is barbaric and wrong. She has to fight against this belief that her Nameless Ones she serves so well didn’t step in to stop this evil mage. She genuinely struggles and battles against it showing the clear signs of trauma someone indoctrinated might go through. Ged is wonderfully patient and helpful with her, guiding her to eventually use the power she has wielded all these years to learn what she truly wants.

The plot was a little tricky here since I never realised although Ged is a character in all the Earthsea books, each one takes place years apart from the last and he isn’t the main character in any of the other books. Tenar did grow on me and I did love her story as it went on but to start with it was a little jarring and had me a little lost to begin with so maybe take that on board if you are going to read these.

I am quite happy I chose to start my TBR projct with this series first. Ursula K Le Guin is honestly one of my favourite writers and I wish I had read Earthsea sooner. I have found it vastly comforting since my break up with JKR and trying to distance myself from Harry Potter for a while. Thanks for checking in folks! happy reading!

★★★★/5

Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin

The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard’s power of Changing and of Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow.’

I am a die hard Le Guin fan for over a year now. Starting my experience of reading her works with ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, I very quickly fell in love and this is now one of my favourite books of all time. I have only read Le Guin’s science fiction and this is my first read of her fantasy epic Earthsea.

‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ begins the story of both Earthsea and Ged who is the greatest sorcerer of Earthsea. Known as Sparrowhawk during his youth, we meet Ged as he grows from boy, to made apprentice to wizard. Along the way we watch him as he learns to confront his own mistakes and learns truly what balance means as bot ha made and a young man.

I LOVED this so much. I read it on my commute mostly and honestly was annoyed when I had to get off the bus and actually go to work (RUDE). I was aware going into this, despite my love of Le Guin’s writing that this was a classic fantasy with a male lead and my have all the tropes that I am sick of. Nope. Not. At. ALL.

For a start, I can picture Earthsea as a place so perfectly in my head. It’s always a huge indicator of my enjoyment of a world built by an author when I can see, smell and hear the world within the first few pages. This is the same distinct feeling I get from some of my favourites like Discworld, Hogwarts and Tortall. I get the distinct impression that this world as a structure mattered so much more to Le Guin as she began writing first. And apparently, this is correct as she began by drawing the map before she wrote the book.

Something else that never gets talked about definitely due to white washung within the publishing industry is that Ged, Sparrowhawk, the main protagonist, is not white. Neither is most of the wide cast of characters we encounter on his journey across Earthsea. This is another thing Le Guin spoke about at length and what prevented her from allowing illustrated versions of the books happening.

Ged is honestly one of my new favourite characters in fantasy. He is incredibly developed throughout this book. He learns so much and he still makes huge mistakes. He is flawed but in the end is a very kind and caring soul with a strong moral compass. He values those around him very dearly while also growing with the knowledge that people are at the end of the day entitled to be both good and bad at the same time.

I found there were so many notable quotes in this book aswell. There is a whole discussion between Ged and his mentor, Ogion, that I quote at the start of my review. The discussion that there is light and dark in all of us. There is this strong lesson that we are incredibly flawed beings (whether magically gifted or not) and we need to embrace that side of ourselves and we will in turn become more powerful. Ged is not like other fantasy protagonists in that he had to work to become this legendary wizard, he had to take journeys, perilous pilgrimages and risks to get where he is. He also has to learn to embrace that side of himself to learn these things.

The plot is not one we have not seen before, magical wizard travelling alone and taking on tasks. It’s even the basic plot of The Witcher TV series (which I did love). Yet, in the hands of Le Guin and her ability to craft such warm, tender stories with rich expansive worlds, it’s a story of vulnerability. It’s a story of learning to reclaim the power within with rich diverse characters that is more relevant today than ever. It is actually a story for teens so it is technically one of the YA books that came before the eruption of the YA genre if that interests you.

I’ll be very quickly continuing this series out of both a need to know what happens to Ged as well as my intention to read the rest of the Le Guin books I own (it’s a lot okay?). I would honestly recommend this to anyone who loves classic fantasy or wants to ease their way into Le Guin’s bibliography. Do tell me if you have read this, if not then please do! Happy reading all!

★★★★★/5

Sci Fi Books Written by Women Authors that I Loved

In case you are new here, hi I’m Hedwig and I’m a lady that loves scifi and fantasy. I have also read an eclectic amount of both scifi, fantasy and horror written buy some wonderful women. I feel like sometimes I have read books that very few people seem to talk about that would make great books for discussions about various aspects of scifi.

So here I am with another list of some of these books that are firm favourites of mine that I’d love to be able to discuss with others at some stage. Just a not that I didn’t include Margaret Atwood since she is pretty well known. These are also just very good books you should check out anyway;

  • Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse: You have no idea how quickly I voted for this in the Hugo awards. This book follows Maggie Hoskie, a monster hunter of the Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation). The world we know has ended, destroyed by climate change and overrun with monsters, Gods and other entities. Maggie is then tasked with finding a missing girl and uncovers a much bigger threat to the entire tribe that she alone can fight. This book is AMAZING. Native culture is wonderful and not ever publicised enough in literature. All of the supernatural figures are not your usual greek or roman creatures which makes for a much more interesting book.
  • Kindred by Octavia E.Butler: Yes she may be known as Dame Octavia but noone is talking about her half as much as they should. This is the story of Dana who while moving into her new home with her husband, falls down nauseous and dizzy and wakes up in a river in 19th century Maryland which is a dangerous place for a black woman. Dana and her husband have to figure out why she is time travelling back to the antebellum South and how she can stay alive while she is there. This book is a hard but fantastic read. You are literally praying for Dana’s safety anytime she jumps back, you can’t put it down and the scenes are very raw descriptions of the tortures endured by people of colour during this time of slavery. Also a good introduction to Butler as an author.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin: No. I won’t shut up about this book. This books details the mission of human male Genly Ai. Ai is an agent for the Ekumen, an intergalactic counsel and has been tasked of convincing the planet Gethen (or Winter) to join the council. Gethenians have no gender, choosing to be male or female once a month during a period known as ‘kemmer’ and we follow Ai on his mission to both learn and navigate his way on Gethen. Never has this book been more relevant with its questions of gender, sexuality and the nature of war. This a powerful, quick read that mixes political machination with growing a relationship with someone from a world you know nothing of.
  • The Beauty by Aaliah Whiteley: A short but powerful story that is firmly within the New Weird category, within this world all the women are dead. Taken by a sickness, the men that are now left are living with the Group in the Valley of the Rocks. Nate is the storyteller of the group and relives memories of days past each night with the Group. How will they continue in a world without women? I won’t say anymore and will firmly remind you this is a book within the New Weird so it is WEIRD. It’s so well written and has a very very different outcome to what you may consider could be in the book. There are some very relevant questions in this book about societal structures, politics and gender roles in society. Definitely worth a read.
  • Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill: One of Cork’s own writers, this is a young adult book that hits very hard. In a future world, girls are created in labs, made for men and educated for their pleasures. All girls are numbered, rated and punished when not ‘suitable’. This book follows Freida as she and her closest friend, Isabel, approach their final year. Then Isabel starts putting on weight. Then she disappears briefly. Then the boys arrive and Frieda may have to do the unthinkable to survive. I read this book in a night and cried for ages after finishing. O’Neill has written other books that push subjects that need to be discussed such as date rape, love and bodily autonomy but nothing will haunt you as much as this future that remakes The Handmaids Tale into something scarier.
  • The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor: Phoenix is a 2 year old woman with the body and mins of an adult and a product of New York’s Tower 7. Phoenix lives in the tower with other ‘accelerated humans’ and questions nothing about her life. Until her partner, Saeed, commits suicide at a result of seeing something horrible Phoenix then begins to realise her home is prison and she will soon discover her true power and how she will change humanity forever. I love Nnedi Okorafor’s book and this is no execption. The world building ,the characters and the writing are so vibrant with a very powerful presence on the page. This book moves from America to Africa and is a prequel to Okorafor’s other novel Who Fears Death. Phoenix is an angry, powerful character who questions everything around her and stands by her decisions and her mistakes.

So theres my list, I’ll be making one for my fantasy recs as well as horror but I think that there is something in here for everyone.

Do you have any books that are less hyped scifi? Do you have any favourites? I’d love to hear your recommendations. Thanks for reading guys!

Audiobook Recommendations for Newbies

I only got into audio books last year when I worked a hectic job and found no other time to read. My history with audio books wasn’t great prior to then. I distinctly remember being bored to total tears in primary school when our teacher put on a tape (yes. tape) audio book of The Hobbit. It was AWFUL.

So to counteract that terrible start to audio books in my life I’ve made a list of the absolute best I have read so far.

  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin: This was the book that started it all, for both Le Guin and audio books overall. This book was so good this has gone on to be one of my favourite books of all time. This books details the mission of human male Genly Ai. Ai is an agent for the Ekumen, an intergalactic counsel and has been tasked of convincing the planet Gethen (or Winter) to join the council. Gethenians have no gender, choosing to be male or female once a month during a period known as ‘kemmer’ and we follow Ai on his mission to both learn and navigate his way on Gethen. This is quite obviously a sci fi book and it stole my heart. It is full cast which suits such a broad spectrum of characters. The cast also are wonderful at handling the voicing of chracters that don’t display obvious gender attributes. Overall it really sets a cold, winter vibe that this book really benefits from.
  • Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman: Out of all Neil Gaiman’s books this was my least favourite. Then I listened to the BBC radio 4 production. The book follows Fat Charlie Nancy as her learns of the death of his father Anansi, the spider god, and of the existence of his brother, Spider. Charlies life takes a sudden turn after both of these things happen and he suddenly has to make a decision that incurs the wrath of the Gods themselves. This book is so funny it actually makes me smile to think about it but it paints such an amazing set of characters due in part to the casting. Lenny Henry is perfect as Anansi. This is also a full cast production (you will see a trend). One thing I really loved while reading this was you felt like you were in the places of the book. London sounded like London, the Caribbean sounded like a sunny place, anywhere else just felt and sounded so real it felt like I was actually there. If you struggled reading the book physically, definitely try the audio.
  • Nevernight by Jay Kristoff: Mia Corvere wants to avenge her father, who she witnessed being executed as a child. Mia wants to be an assassin to achieve her vengeance. She must journey to the Red Church and become an acolyte of the goddess Niah in order to complete her training. That is of course if she survives. If you somehow haven’t heard of this series, fair play now read it. Honestly I read this on audio for the simple reason being I was busy and wanted to read it at last. The audio is perfect for both those reasons, the narrator Holter Graham does a fantastic job for all the voices particularly Mia and Mercurio. His voice for Mia took a while to get used to but by the time I listened to the sequel, ‘Godsgrave’, it had either improved or I embraced it. Either way I highly recommend it on audio especially if you don’t have time to sit down and read the actual book. You also get to avoid the footnotes.
  • Pet Sematary by Stephen King: The Creed family move from Chicago to the town of Ludlow in order for Louis Creed to get a job at the University of Maine. The house sits beside a road that is used heavily by large trucks. After the death of a pet in the family Louis learns of a piece of land that can reanimate the dead and begins to wonder what else it can do. This is my favourite Stephen King book for many years and listening to it on audio hasn’t changed that. The book is narrated by Michael C.Hall from the TV show Dexter and oh my god is his voice chilling. I knew what was coming but still dreaded every second as the story went on. Also, bonus if you are a Dexter fan!
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman: Yes this is also on the list. I’m sorry. Shadow Moon has just gotten out of jail. Shadow Moon has also just found out his wife is dead. Then he meets Mr Wednesday who offers him a job as a body guard. Shadow has no idea what he has let himself in for. This is my favourite book of all time and yet I had never read it on audio before this June. There are 2 versions, the full cast production and a single narrated version. Definitely check out the full cast (surprise) version, simply for Neil Gaiman’s narration of the Coming to America stories.
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K Rowling: Based on the Harry Potter in verse text book of the same name details the discoveries of Newt Scamander and his discoveries about different beasts and advice on how to handle them. Obviously the movie is loosely based on this book but the audio is narrated by Eddie Redmayne who plays Scamander and its so lovely. He puts every bit of the soft loveliness he has on screen into the book. There are even background effects for each creature, the dragons being my favourite. I did hear from a friend of mine that he thought this one was pointless if you’re not into Harry Potter so maybe heed his advice if you’re not a fan. Or ignore him and listen to the lovely man talk about pretty creatures.

I hope this list is helpful to anyone sitting on the audio book fence. I honestly think audio books are very subjective, based totally on the readers taste and experience but narrators and cast vs no cast does make a huge difference I feel. Spotify, Borrowbox (for Irish readers) and Scribd are other options to Audible as well if you want to try audio books while still being cautious. Until next time guys, take care!