Life After Harry Potter

Other Books
in This Series

  1. A Wizard of Earthsea
  2. The Farthest Shore
  3. The Wind’s Twelve Quarters*
  4. Tehanu:  The Last Book of Earthsea
  5. Tales from Earthsea
  6. The Other Wind

* This book contains 2 short stories set in the world of Earthsea.
Life After H P

Book Review


The Tombs of Atuan The Tombs of Atuan

by Ursula K. Le Guin


Comparison | Negative | Positive | Adult Content | Conclusion | Edition

This review will begin with a very brief comparison to the first book in the series.  This will be followed by the (many) negative aspects of this story, and then the positive aspects (again, comparing to the first book).  It will then provide an evaluation of adult content and a conclusion.  Finally, a short review of the edition I read is provided.

This second in the Earthsea series is quite a bit different from A Wizard of Earthsea.  Although we (once again) start with a young main character, that person is a girl who does not have any apparent supernatural powers.  Rather, her only claim to an exceptional nature is based only on the fact that she happened to have been born shortly after the local high priestess died, and therefore is considered to be the reincarnation of that priestess.  The majority of the story is about how this girl becomes a young woman in the service of ancient gods, and how she comes to terms with her extremely circumscribed life and rather grisley duties.

The most surprising thing about this tale after reading the first in the series is the dearth of magic.  The author continually hints at the powers held by previous clerics (strong enough to soundly defeat wizards), but we never witness the exercise of these powers.  Fortunately, all is not lost, as late in the story a rogue wizard enters the temple precincts to steal an ancient magical artifact, lost by a powerful wizard in previous years against one of those very same clerics.  I won’t give away the story, but I will say that even this staff-wielding wizard performs very little in the way of discernible magic.

Although some might consider this an interesting look at the life of a young girl forced into the service of an ancient (fantasy) religion, it lacks much in the way of fantasy.  Not only is there little magic, there are no mythical creatures (dragons are only mentioned), no epic, danger-filled journey, no attempt to save the world, no knights in shining armor — in short, nothing that one expects to find in a fantasy novel other than a fantasy world, and even that is limited to a single island in this story.  Indeed, nearly the entire story takes place within the temple precincts.  In other words, this story is simply lacking in the things we look for in fantasy!  There are some suspenseful moments, but even here I am unsatisfied.  One of the most suspenseful, involving the thorough exploration of the temple area by the young priestess, is never realized.

On the positive side, this story does not suffer from many of the problems of the first book in this series.  The author does not appear to be editing out important details, and the ending is not quite as predictable as that of the previous tale (although it is certainly no surprise).

There is no adult content whatsoever.

Conclusion:  this book is quite a disappointment after reading the first in the series.  Although characters are well-fleshed out, and the actions of one even surprised me near the end, this tale lacks most of the desirable components of a fantasy story.  It seems to me to be more of a fantasy historical fiction (if such a thing exists).  Although the story is not bad, it is certainly nothing I would recommend to anyone who was not a die-hard Earthsea fan.  Fortunately, the series is not over, and the best is yet to come.

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The April, 2005 Science Fiction Book Club edition was reviewed (ISBN:  978-0-7394-5271-4).  This is a hard-cover (cardboard?) book with a glued (not stitched) binding.  This omnibus edition also contains the first and third stories in the series, A Wizard of Earthsea and The Farthest Shore.  Once again, to my delighted surprise, I detected no printing errors whatsoever in this story, unusual for any book.  Although I was disappointed in the maps in the first story, this tale is so location-bound that I only remember referencing the map twice:  once at the beginning to make sure of the island location, and once at the end to verify the description of a landform.  Overall, a very good edition at a decent price ($20.98, price includes shipping).  If chosen as a Science Fiction Book Club introductory selection, it is an excellent value (under $6.00).  I can also be persuaded to provide this volume, new, at two dollars over my cost, to those who are interested.  Please e-mail me with your request.

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