This is a lovely book, full of evocative images and tantalizing ideas. I often feel like LeGuin writes about her characters at a remove, not as involved with them as other authors tend to be. In fact, one of the things I remember most vividly about reading the Earthsea books for the first time is wondering how she could manage to write so dispassionately and yet remain completely compelling. In Gifts, that characteristic is diminished; I felt much more involved with Orrec and Gry. Still, in moments where another author might choose to highlight emotions, LeGuin tends to dampen them, without any loss of power.
One of my big Things reading-wise is setting: whether the place feels real and alive. In a certain sense, I want the land to be as much a character in the story as the people. The Uplands are certainly that. I felt a bit of an echo with the Scottish Highlands, in the dichotomy between the mountains and the lowlands. The fact that the men wear kilts certainly didn’t hurt. And there was also a sense, very like that I have of an entirely fictional Scotland, of a sort of wild sweetness in the land and the Uplanders themselves.
This is actually the second time I’ve read Gifts. The first time I remember being impressed by the reveal. This time I was less so, not because I remembered exactly what happened (I didn’t) but because it seemed more obvious earlier. I know there are two more books in the series, but I don’t know if they’re about Orrec or not. If they are, I’ll be interested to see if the ending here is the ending of the series as well, or whether it’s changed again.
As a side note, I love the cover, which reminds me a little of The Sunbird. It’s the same colors, I suppose, and Orrec looks just a tad like Telemakos, though they’re quite different characters in most ways. Anyway, it’s a lovely thing, though I bet it’s been changed to fit in with this awful trend of photographs with models that we’re in at the moment.*
There were a lot of ideas I found really intriguing, mostly to do with the gifts. The gift’s gift, the way the gifts could go either forward or backward. The whole thing felt thought-out, but not in an overly analytical way.
Finally, a quote from early in the book:
And even when it’s over, even when it’s somebody else’s life, somebody who lived a hundred years ago, whose story I’ve heard told time and again, while I’m hearing it I hope and fear as if I didn’t know how it would end; and so I live the story and it lives in me. That’s as good a way as I know to outwit death. Stories are what death thinks he puts an end to. He can’t understand that they end in him, but they don’t end with him.
Book source: public library
Book information: Harcourt, 2004; YA
* I think I may rant about this soon. Be warned.