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Arbie's Unoriginally Titled Book Blog

It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.

Currently reading

Ack-Ack Macaque
Gareth L. Powell
Progress: 249/792 pages
Introduction to Topology
Bert Mendelson
Progress: 10/224 pages
Isaac Newton
James Gleick
Progress: 20/289 pages
Basics of Plasma Astrophysics
Claudio Chiuderi, Marco Velli
Progress: 58/250 pages
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs (The Library of America)
Brian Attebery, Ursula K. Le Guin
Progress: 454/700 pages
A Student's Guide to Lagrangians and Hamiltonians
Patrick Hamill
Progress: 7/180 pages
Complete Poems, 1904-1962
E.E. Cummings
Progress: 232/1102 pages
The Complete Plays and Poems
E.D. Pendry, J.C. Maxwell, Christopher Marlowe
Gravitation (Physics Series)
Kip Thorne;Kip S. Thorne;Charles W. Misner;John Archibald Wheeler;John Wheeler
Progress: 48/1215 pages
I Am a Cat
Graeme Wilson, Aiko Ito, Sōseki Natsume
Progress: 410/638 pages
Voices - Ursula K. Le Guin

In the second volume of The Annals of the Western Shore, LeGuin takes us a long way south from the Uplands of the first volume, to the conquered coastal city of Ansul. She also provides a map of the Western Shore not printed in the first or third volumes. One of the regions on the map, Sessery, sounds very much like it should be an island of Earthsea.

Memer narrates the story of her young life, growing up in a city conquered by an invading army from the desert to the east - indeed she is a product of that invasion, her mother being forced by a soldier from the invading army.

The hated Alds - the invaders - bring their religious beliefs with them and Atth, their one God, hates the written word.

Ansul was a University city and had a great and famed library. The aftermath of conquest saw it destroyed, along with its contents, any other books discovered by the army and all discovered harbouring the written word.

Memer grows up hating the occupying Alds, though she looks like them, and learning history and poetry from the cache of books held in a room with no doors. Little changes until the arrival of Orrec Caspro and Gry Barr in the city, summoned by the Alds' chief political figure. Then change comes more swiftly than she could have believed possible - and she finds herself at the centre of it.

LeGuin gives more to think about in this book than any dozen documentaries on the religious conflicts of this world...and that is what she is writing about, though any one analogy with a real modern conflict doesn't quite fit, much to her credit, in my view. LeGuin intends her readers not to make easy comparisons but to have to think seriously about the motivations, merits and de-merits of all parties involved in her imagined occupied city and hence be forced to do so with regard to the world we see around us. She uses Memer's awakening to a complicated political situation and enforced close up view of her enemies to suggest that seeing our enemies as human is much of the way to finding a way to live with them. Without ever unrealistically simplifying matters she promotes talking (politics) as a solution, perhaps the only solution, though not necessarily an ideal one.

LeGuin tells a gripping, intricate, carefully crafted story of immediate and yet depressingly timeless relevance in an intelligent and perceptive way. LeGuin is rarely less than profound but does not always give sufficient attention to providing her readers with a compelling narrative. That fault cannot be observed in this novel, making this the best fantasy work she has written since The Farthest Shore and putting it on a parr with her very best work in any genre.