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Review: The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

>>Sunday, June 13, 2010

Title: The Tombs of Atuan
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Pages: 163
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: A

This is the second novel in the Earthsea cycle and also part of the Summer of Series challenge at Jawas Read, Too!.

From Amazon: When young Tenar is chosen as high priestess to the ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth, everything is taken away from her-home, family, possessions, even her name. She is now known only as Arha, the Eaten One, guardian of the labyrinthine Tombs of Atuan, shrouded in darkness. When a young wizard, Ged Sparrowhawk, comes to steal the Tombs' greatest hidden treasure, the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, Tenar's rightful duty is to protect the Tombs. But Ged also brings with him the light of magic and tales of a brighter world Tenar has never known. Will Tenar risk everything to escape the darkness that has become her domain?

Warning: Contains some spoilers.

I liked this story more than the one told in the first book in the series. I think this is mainly because I thought this story was more intimate than the first. I liked the first a lot and thought it had mainly good messages but I never really connected to Ged. In Tombs I connected to Tenar pretty quickly. Perhaps this is because her life doesn’t start off so well. She is forced into some pretty depressing circumstances and even pressured to commit horrendous tasks on behalf of being the priestess.

I liked seeing Tenar grow and navigate through her world which I think that she never truly accepted. In the end, Ged helps her to escape and for that I am happy for Tenar but I wish she would have done more on her own. She proved strong in the end but I also thought there was implications in the way that all the women on the site were subject to these dark powers and Ged, a man, came to reveal their ignorance and even rescue little Tenar. I would have liked to see a strong female heroine who wasn’t serving dark powers.

Something I felt was mysterious was the way the dark powers worked in the novel. Until Ged arrives in the story, there is no real display of dark magic or supernatural powers. We only know what Tenar has learned, that dark powers lived in the Tombs and Labyrinth and that such and such would happen were the rules broken. We never really got to see this. Neither does Tenar who experiences it as we do: by what the other priestesses were telling her. Even when Ged arrives it is through his testimony that we know what the dark powers are doing. I wonder what the real extent to their powers was. Surely there was some bad energy there, but was most of it superstition believed by the people? Kossil said something about this, about the powers being dead. Perhaps she was right and that the only power holding people there were their own fears. The only physical evidence is the collapsing of the tunnels in the end when Tenar and Ged escape (and I have to say that could have been Ged’s doing as much as anyone's). I wonder why Le Guin did not show us more in this regard if in fact the dark powers were significant.

In the end I enjoyed this story a lot but I did refrain from reading it from a feminist perspective at the time because I knew if I did I would feel differently about it. I don’t think children would notice these things and so it would be entertaining for them. I am giving this an A, the same as the first book, because I felt while this story was more interesting, the messages weren’t as strong as in A Wizard of Earthsea.


  1. Oh yay! Another fantasy/sci-fi blog. I am not going to read your review of this yet because I've only read the first book, Wizard of Earthsea. I thought it was really good and want to finish the series though!

    Count me in as a new follower. Also, you might want to consider signing up for Twitter. I've networked with a lot of bloggers that way! It's heaps fun. :)

    Oh, and I also replied to your question on my event, Book 'Read Round the World. The goodies are yours to keep. The book you send on to the next person on the list (which I will provide).The thing you put in the package can be anything you like that is unique to the place you live. It can even be homemade if you choose. It's just meant to help create a sense of community and cultural goodwill for the event. Hopefully we'll all learn something about each other!

  2. Sorry this is late, but I'm finally getting to reading everyone's reviews! Thank you for joining us in the discussion. June has definitely been very interesting. :)

    To comment on your thoughts of the book: I can understand how you'd feel about Tenar serving darker powers, but she had been misled. To her, they were not dark powers, but rather something good, something necessary. But you're right, she is a very strong female heroine! In fact, she's so impressive, she was even quick to change her opinion based on Ged's evidence and was brave enough to go against everything she'd been taught to not trust men.

    I think the dark powers that were there may have been just Kossil and the other women harnessing the base power of the earth they had there for their own evil purposes. :)

    Thank you for joining us! :)



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