Top positive review
Paths of the powerless (some spoilers if you have not read through book 3)
Reviewed in the United States on February 17, 2019
I read the Earthsea trilogy when I was a teen in the 90's. I heard rumors then of a 4th book, Tehanu, and wanted badly to read it, but never saw it in stores. The internet didn't exist yet, so I did not pursue it further, believing I would read it someday. I finished reading it today, as a woman in my mid-30's. It's a book I am glad I didn't try to grasp when I was younger. Like Le Guin mentions in the afterword, she said she needed nearly 18 years to gain the experience to write the book, and I think I needed my 20 years to read it and be ready to hear what it had to say. I understand the book has been criticized by some for being overly 'feminist', and she addressed that in the afterword deftly, and without shrinking or apologizing for what she wrote, and I love her all the more for it.
I don't want to spoil anything, but I feel the heart of this book is in Tenar's character development through maiden and then mother, and her relationship to crones as she looks forward to the next stage of her life. Her relationships to power are explored--both the power she possesses innately, and the powers that have influenced her externally. She cares for a girl who has been disfigured and disused beyond the point of healing, such that only a transformation would allow her to thrive. Ged spent the last of his power at the end of 'The Farthest Shore', and must find a renewed purpose to continue living, as his power is no longer the core of his identity, and he is no longer effectual in the ways in which he has been accustomed his whole life. This book explores further the role of death in the life cycle, and the pressures of pain and injustice that push each of these lives deep into the earth, from which they must all burst forth and transform renewed as seedlings must reach for the sunlight.
Reading a high fantasy book with a woman past her flower (invisible as they often are) as the main protagonist has affected me profoundly. I wish desperately that I could still thank Ursula K. Le Guin for what her writing and vision have mean to to my life, but I am too late to catch her before her final departure. I felt as though, reading this, that in the telling she had whispered a piece of her true name in my ear, and left behind a home in Earthsea, and her books and sage insight, and the cycle continues unbroken.