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Ursula K. Le Guin
Harcourt, 274 pages

Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin was born in 1929, the daughter of a writer and an anthropologist. She published her first novel, Rocannon's World, in 1966. Her fourth novel, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, a feat she repeated with The Dispossessed (1974). The Earthsea trilogy established her as a master of fantasy as well as science fiction. She has also published poetry and short story collections, and she received the Pilgrim Award in 1989 for her critical writings.

Ursula K. Le Guin Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Gifts
SF Site Review: The Lathe of Heaven
SF Site Review: Tales from Earthsea
SF Site Review: The Telling
SF Site Interview: Ursula K. Le Guin
SF Site Review: The Other Wind
SF Site Review: The Telling
SF Site Review: The Dispossessed

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

A new novel from SFWA Grandmaster Ursula K. Le Guin is always welcome. Gifts is presented as Ursula K. Le Guin's first Young Adult novel in a long time. I confess I was surprised -- which perhaps merely points up the difficult of defining "YA." One could certainly have argued that The Other Wind (2001) would appeal to YA readers -- if for no other reason than that it is part of her Earthsea sequence. But why quibble? This new book is a novel, a novel certainly suitable for younger readers, and featuring a narrator in his teens, but at the same time a novel that adults will surely enjoy.

Gifts is set in a somewhat vaguely situated fantasy world. The main characters live in the "Uplands," a setting that made me think of the Scottish Highlands. People from the Lowlands know little of the Uplands, save vague stories, regarded as legends, of "witches." And indeed, certain families have special talents, or "gifts," that run fairly true from father to son and mother to daughter. These gifted families are the aristocrats of small, farming-oriented, domains. The gifts seem mostly rather terrifying -- the power to take over another's mind, the power to "undo" something (turn order into Chaos), the power to twist a man's body unnaturally, or to make someone deathly ill. A few gifts are less fearful: calling animals, or moving heavy things. In general the Uplands people seem to be struggling -- diminishing in both numbers and in the power of their gifts.

The narrator, Orrec, is the son of the Brantor of Caspromant. They have the power of undoing -- essentially, killing any living thing by their will. His mother, however, is a Lowlander. His best friend, Gry, is a girl his age, the daughter of two parents with separate gifts. Her mother's gift, and hers, is to call animals. Her mother uses it, as is traditional, to aid in the hunt. But Gry prefers to use it to help train animals such as horses and dogs.

The story is basically of Orrec's growing up, amid his father's conflict with a vile neighboring Brantor. All is complicated by the slowness of Orrec's gift in manifesting. Eventually it seems that he has a "wild gift" -- he cannot control it, and he takes to wearing a blindfold so that he will not accidentally kill something he is is looking at. The resolution depends on answering questions about the morality of revenge, the proper use of dangerous gifts, and what other sorts of gifts a person may have.

Le Guin's prose is, as always, a delight. Her characters are well-realized and people about whom we truly care. Her villains may be a bit too evil for my taste, but ultimately Gifts turns, not on good people vs. evil people, but on each person dealing with their own powers and their own potential for good and evil. I enjoyed this novel very much.

Copyright © 2005 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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