Title: The Tombs of Atuan
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
This is the second novel in the Earthsea cycle and also part of the Summer of Series challenge at Jawas Read, Too!.
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.