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The Other Wind (The Earthsea Cycle) Mass Market Paperback – Illustrated, September 11, 2012
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From the Back Cover
--Michael Swanwick, author of Stations of the Tide
"I adored THE OTHER WIND. Real mythmaking, done by a master of the craft. . . . The magic of Earthsea is primal; the lessons of Earthsea remain as potent, as wise, and as necessary as anyone could dream."
--Neil Gaiman, author of The Sandman
- Publisher : Clarion Books; Illustrated edition (September 11, 2012)
- Language : English
- Mass Market Paperback : 328 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0547773722
- ISBN-13 : 978-0547773728
- Reading age : 12 years and up
- Lexile measure : 840L
- Grade level : 7 - 9
- Item Weight : 7.7 ounces
- Dimensions : 4.19 x 0.78 x 6.88 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #530,578 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Also, It’s important to read tales of Earthsea before this one. I was a bit confused and almost read this one first, but you have to read this one last.
The book did start out great. With some more editorial guidance, something really great could have been achieved.
Ged and Arren returned out of the Dry Land, but left behind those who were neither alive nor truly dead.
Who were those shadows of the living? Why were they condemned to lead such miserable half-lives, in which Arren "saw the mother and child who had died together, and they were in the dark land together; but the child did not run, nor did it cry, and the mother did not hold it or ever look at it. And those who had died for love passed each other in the streets."
"The Other Wind" debates the riddle of a 'true' death, and reveals how the very existence of the Dry Land threatens the people of Earthsea.
Actually there is more debate than action in this latest Le Guin fantasy, but as always she delivers her message through her complex and likeable characters. There lives the true magic in this series.
The reader is first introduced to the plight of the undead through Alder, a recent widower who can magically mend crockery and other mundane items. In a dream, his deceased wife kisses him over the low stone wall that separates the living world from the Dry Land. Subsequent dreams reveal other undead, who beg him to release them from the dark and return them to the land of the living.
Alder flees to the Island of Gont, to seek help from the former Archmage. But old Ged used up all of his magic while defeating the Dry Land mage (in "The Farthest Shore") and he counsels Alder to ask for assistance from the new King.
At the royal residence on Havnor, Alder meets many characters from previous Earthsea stories: Ged's wife, Tenar who was formerly priestess of the Tombs of Atuan; the burned child, Tehanu who can summon dragons; the dragon, Irien who assumes the shape of a woman; and Arren, the young King himself, companion to Ged on his fateful journey to the Dry Land.
King Arren (who now uses his true name, Lebannen) has problems of his own, including rampaging dragons and a heavily veiled princess, foisted off on him by a former enemy who orders the King to marry her. Nevertheless he agrees to help Arren, the sorcerous pot-mender who seems to have acquired the power to destroy the balance between Earthsea's underworld and its realm of the living.
The climax to "The Other Wind" takes place on Roke, the island of Mages, where the author ties all of her loose plot devices together--EXCEPT for the prophecy regarding 'The Woman of Gont.'
Admittedly the former archmage, Ged offered Alder 'a' solution to the prophecy before the sorcerer left Gont, but it wasn't very satisfying.
My hope is that there is time for at least one more Earthsea fantasy --one where the prophecy first revealed in "Tehanu (volume three)" is fully explained.
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The thing that struck me once I’d finished this book was that it felt unnecessary. LeGuin seems to have written it to retcon the nature of death in Earthsea, making the Dry Land of the dead into a perversion of the natural cycle of reincarnation, a prison for the dead who suffer there, but in “The Farthest Shore” Ged says that the ghosts in the Dry Land are merely shadows and names; the people those things belonged to are reborn in the world of the living. LeGuin retconned this to devote a whole book to the assertion that because death exists, it is necessary and better than eternal life. And if you take that claim solely within the context of Earthsea this is true because LeGuin made the only alternative an eternity of stasis devoid of human connection, but she clearly wanted to write something profound and true about the real world, and I cannot say she succeeded. Not only does her argument lack applicability to the real world (and present no meaningful difference between reincarnation and straightforward death), LeGuin doesn’t seem to realise she refutes it. In a scene near the climax, the Summoner of Roke says, “But it is not right to want to die… For the very old, the very ill, it may be. But life is given us. Surely it’s wrong not to hold and treasure that great gift!” To which Lebannen replies, “Death also is given us,” but you’re not obliged to keep or use a gift if you don’t want it.
Which isn’t to say this book lacks anything of value; it is an Ursula LeGuin story after all and she could always write well. The characterisation’s mostly good as well; I was touched by Tenar’s pleasure in having someone to speak her native language with, and her relationship with Tehanu was well done. I also liked the wizard Onyx: his respect for Alder and Seppel as fellow magic-users in spite of Alder’s lower social status and the stigma of Seppel’s magical tradition was nicely endearing. Lebannen comes across better than in his previous appearances in that we see bits of him being a wise king, and his frustration with the Kargish princess dumped on him as a fiancée, while not pleasant, is at least sympathetic as the reaction of someone constrained as he is.
That said, he might just be frustrated with the problematic aspects Seserakh brings with her: she comes from a Kargish culture that feels very much like a Middle-Eastern stereotype. Her people are native to a desert and have extreme patriarchy (Tenar suggests Seserakh’s father might kill her if Lebannen rejects her as a bride, and Seserakh veils herself in the presence of men); if it weren’t for the fact that the Kargs are white I’d assume it was straightforward racism, but with this and in light of the previous books it feels more like LeGuin’s desire to critique the patriarchy, her previously-established worldbuilding, and her desire to avoid fantasy’s typical Eurocentrism all converged to produce these weird uncomfortable implications. (I am white, though, so it’s not like I have any kind of definitive opinion on this.) Then there’s how thinking about Seserakh causes Tenar to slip into a whole paragraph of the kind of gender essentialist rubbish I thought she’d got past in Tehanu, and the conflation of going unveiled with confidence and fearlessness, which… I’ve read the words of Muslim women on wearing veils and all I can say is that I don’t get the impression that LeGuin did. The veil thing just gets even more uncomfortable when Lebannen’s friend says “If anyone gave me a package like that… I’d open it.” Why is that line given to someone we’re meant to like? Finally, Seserakh seems to start liking Lebannen on the basis of very little interaction, and it feels like LeGuin was trying too hard to convince us they’d have a happy marriage.
The dragons still aren’t as compelling as Yevaud was in “A Wizard of Earthsea”, but we get a clearer picture of their alien amorality and freedom. We also get a picture of the various cultures of Earthsea working together to solve a problem, and an implication that this example of people with different cultures and worldviews sitting down, talking things through, and cooperating is the template for Earthsea’s future.
“The Other Wind” isn’t as good as the first four books. I’m not sure if it’s better or worse than “Tales From Earthsea”. It is a fitting close to the series, which is good because despite the muddled half-finished state in which she left her examination of Earthsea’s gender politics I think LeGuin had run out of anything new to say here. Ultimately I don’t think I can give it more than three stars – there’s half a good novel in this, but sadly LeGuin wasn’t able to free it from the other half.
You see, "Tehanu" is not the story of that character. It is, almost entirely, the story of Tenar; the female protagonist of "The Tombs of Atuan". It mainly covers what happened to her after the events of that book.
A big part of what Tenar did was adopt the child Tehanu, but in "Tehanu", Tehanu herself is very young and mostly silent. She emerges as a character only at the very end of that book, which - my opinion - has no business being called a 'novel' in it's own right at all.
You need to have read "The Tombs of Atuan" to know who Tenar is and her relationship to Ged. You need to read this book to get the remaining three-quarters of Tehanu's story. Once you have the whole thing, it's wonderful stuff, but you do need to have all of it.
For a long time I thought of her Earthsea novels as a trilogy. But then along came 'Tehanu' to make it a quartet. With 'Tales of Earthsea' I lost track of what to call the series – a quintet? a pentalogy? – maybe just a collection.
Then, just a few weeks ago, I discovered a sixth book, 'The Other Wind'. I had a momentary fear that she might not have kept up the standard for yet another novel in the series, but she has. What’s more, it was a joy to read it so short a time after we lost her – it was as though I could hear her voice in something new, to me, from beyond the grave.
That, by the way, is an apt starting point to think about Earthsea. Because if there’s one characteristic of the cycle (hey, maybe that’s the word to use - I notice that others do) that is striking above all others, it’s her handling of the theme of death. These novels never were just a series of children’s books with a wonderful and whimsical mixture of magic and adventure, but even if they had been, the way she handles this difficult theme sets them way above the run of the mill in that genre.
In the world of Earthsea, certain wizards, and in particular the protagonist Ged have the ability to enter a strange land where a dry and dusty hillside slopes down towards a low dry-stone wall. Beyond it, nothing grows, nothing changes, strange stars hang forever static in the firmament above.
Few indeed are the living who can cross that wall and discover what lies beyond. And if they do, they come away with no edifying picture: the dusty landscape is dotted with silent towns, where the dead wander the streets without joy or hope or love, where even if they meet the great passion of their lives, they pass them by without a spark or even recognition.
In 'The Other Wind', Ursula le Guin returns to this theme and wraps it up for us. At the start of a book, we meet a young man, Alder, not even a wizard, merely a village sorcerer, who has been afflicted with a recurring dream. In it he finds himself at that wall and beyond it stands the wife he loved and lost – and she reaches across to touch him. He even bears the mark of that touch, in waking life.
As the dream returns again and again, more and more people join her, pleading with him to set them free, and trying to tear down the wall.
Now Alder is looking for Ged, who has retired from his role as Archmage and lives as a simple farmer on his native island of Gont. The advice Ged gives him will lead to the assembly of a broad group of disparate beings: wizards of both the main schools of Earthsea, representatives of the main groups of men – and women, for women play a major role in this novel – including the inhabitants of the Kargad lands, with their different mythology, a mythology that casts a vital light on the developments that are perturbing them. And the dragons, too, will join them.
Between them, they set out on the urgent quest to find out why the dead are trying to break down the wall and return to the world of the living, and to find a lasting solution to the fearful difficulty they represent.
The resolution is entirely worthy of Ursula le Guin and, indeed, paints a picture of death consistent with her world outlook. It is a view, indeed, I find much the most comforting in all those we’re offered. For that reason alone the book’s worth reading.
And, as it wraps up a series to which she’s not around to add any more, it acts as a wonderful epitaph.
This is as powerful, beautifully written and enthralling as the original quartet was. Recommended.