Voices (Annals of the Western Shore)

by Ursula Le Guin

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Young Memer takes on a pivotal role in freeing her war-torn homeland from its oppressive captors.

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LibraryThing member srcsmgrl
In Voices, LeGuin picks up the story of Orrec and Gry many years later. They have left their upland home and traveled to many far off places, collecting learning and lore. Orrec has found that his gift is not of unmaking, but of making and has created many stories and poems of his own and won renown as performer and scholar.

In Voices, Orrec and his wife Gry travel to Ansul at the request of the Ald Gand, the ruler of that conquered land. Once there, Orrec hopes to gain access to the books of legend and learn from their pages. Unfortunately, in the invasion and the subsequent occupation, most books were destroyed. Those that were not are hidden away to protect them from the invading forces. Soon Orrec and Gry find themselves in the middle of a revolution against the Ald's with Memer, a young local woman who has taken them into her home and heart.

Voices deals with hard issues in its fantasy theme, some of which parallel today's world. Memer is a young woman in an occupied country where the invaders think that women should be hidden and that women found in public are asking to be raped. In fact, that is how Memer came to be. During the initial invasion, Memer's mother was found out in the open and raped by a soldier. Memer is a half-cast, born of both invader and invaded, but it is easy to see where her loyalties lie. Foreign customs, censorship and limited freedoms remind one of what peoples in an occupied lands must experience.

I recommend this book for ages 10 and up, based mostly on difficulty. While rape is mentioned, there are no details. This is an adventure of high order. Younger children might have a harder time getting through the first book to get to the second, but it is definitely worth the work. The book is set up perfectly to continue the story of Memer, Orrec and Gry, so expect a third book in this series.
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LibraryThing member ed.pendragon
Le Guin has a magical gift of creating credible alternate universes peopled with characters so well drawn you feel you know them personally, suffusing them with a passionate humanism that both transforms and warms her worlds of SF and fantasy. 'Voices' is part of another such world, set in the Lands of the Western Shore, and while linking the previous title 'Gifts' and the sequel 'Powers' exists equally well as a standalone.

The main protagonist is the youngster Memer who grows into womanhood by the end of the novel. Set in a Mediterranean-like port (think medieval Venice or Genoa or Split: a map is provided to help orientate the reader) the story concerns her experience of living in an occupied city where both reading and books are banned for religious reasons. Against these conditions, which are familiar from much modern history, are set the fantasy element, which is that Memer finds herself apparently a mouthpiece of prophecies, a sybil in fact, the consequence of her adoption by a household where there is a such a tradition. In amongst the imagined voices that Memer hears are the audible voice of the poet Orrec and the inaudible voice that his wife Gry uses to call her lion; Orrec and Gry of course you may have met in 'Gifts' when they were scarcely the age that Memer attains in the grand culmination of this book.

As always Le Guin has penned a rich and satisfying tale of coming of age while also dealing with other big issues such as tolerance and the nature of revelation. It is rare that you can so successfully imagine yourself stepping into another existence simultaneously both foreign and familiar, and that Le Guin does it with seeming effortlessness is to her credit and our gain.
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LibraryThing member Erratic_Charmer
A fantasy story set in a city, Ansul, that has been brutally subjugated by an army of foreigners known as the Alds, who believe the written word to be sacrilege and consider owning a book a crime punishable by death. The narrator is a 17-year-old girl named Memer who lives in the household of the former ‘Waylord’ of Ansul. The plot centres around a hidden library with magical books, a visiting storyteller and lion handler who befriend Memer and the Waylord, and an ancient, mysterious oracular cave. All of these elements come together in political upheaval for Ansul and the Alds. Plenty of action; battles are fought on more than just ideological grounds!

This is a book that could be read by young adults, but while it’s not needlessly graphic LeGuin doesn’t pull any punches describing the misery of life in an occupied city: the narrator Memer was born of a woman raped by an Ald soldier, the Waylord is permanently crippled by torture, and oppression and slavery are widespread. There is beauty here too, however, in the Ansul god-shrines, in LeGuin’s observant descriptions of animal characters, and in the emotions brought up by poetry and song. It’s a bright, hopeful story overall, not a grim one.

Highlights include the simple but vivid world creation (I was particularly enchanted with LeGuin’s descriptions of the Ansul deities, shrines, and rites of worship) and the character of Memer as she struggles to discern the path of wisdom through her passionate emotions. There is a lot in here about the power of song and story to inspire and shape destinies, a theme naturally dear to the heart of any book lover!

This is making me think it’s past time to reread the [Wizard of Earthsea] trilogy.
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LibraryThing member Raven
I am never sure what to think of Le Guin's fantasy; I love Earthsea, but find myself in the odd position of agreeing with Le Guin's own criticisms of her fantasy world, but disliking how she addressed them in Tehanu and The Other Wind. So I was a little wary coming into this, her first young adult fantasy in some time.

But Voices is truly excellent. It's beautifully written, it's engaging, it's clear-eyed and above all, it brings a woman to centre stage and shows off her strength. This is how I want to see the women in my fantasy novels - ordinary women with ordinary strength and courage, who are heroes because sometimes some people have to be.

The novel is set in a standard fantasy world, in a city called Ansul, famous for its university and libraries and learning, until it was invaded by the Alds, a race of people who fear reading and writing, and destroy all books they come across. The last books in the city are in the care of its former ruler, the Waylord Sulter Galva, and the daughter of his house, Memer.

And then a poet arrives, with his wife and their lion(!) and the rebellion begins. The first time I read it, I think I made the mistake of thinking this was a story about that rebellion, and being consequently disappointed by the pacing of it, and how the conflict mostly happens offstage. It made much more sense on the re-read, however, to read it as a coming-of-age story set against that heavy political backdrop, which gives it meaning, but doesn't take up the primary plot. And unlike poor, useless Tehanu, Memer Galva shines as a protagonist - it is her story, and her growing into her inheritance, that carry the novel, and she does it with aplomb. Le Guin fills it with lovely, unexpected grace notes: details, such as the fact, mentioned in passing, that the Waylord is not a typical fantasy-novel feudal lord - he's democratically elected - and Memer's own musings about how, in epic stories about wayfarers in troubled lands, the characters all find extra food for their visitors to eat with no trouble at all. It's the little touches that suggest a mature, practiced and very good writer.

I am told that the poet, Orrec Caspro, has a novel of his own in this series, and that the other two, Powers and Gifts are also set in this world of the Western Shore - but having read neither of them, I still think this is a beautiful, flawless stand-alone piece, and definitely worth reading even if you don't happen to be in the young adult demographic.
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LibraryThing member devilish2
I didn't realise that this was a sequel. It didn't read like one. I loved the depth to this, ostensibly, children's novel. There is a deep message about peace and respect for religion that I found not at all intrusive or didactic, just entirely natural in the story.
LibraryThing member bragan
The first sequel to Gifts, this takes place something like twenty years later. The main characters from the first book do play a part in the story, but the main character this time is Memer, a seventeen-year-old girl who has grown up in a once-democratic city now cruelly occupied by a foreign force. The occupiers regard writing as demonic and do not tolerate the keeping of books within the city, but in the grand, half-ruined house in which Memer lives, there is a secret room which contains a hidden library... as well as something much stranger, something important to both the city's past and its future.

If Gifts was a good, but rather simple little YA tale, this installment is something else again. Memer and her world feel incredibly real and well-developed to me, sucking me into their story right from the beginning. And how can I resist a book that's partly about the power of words and the importance of books? But more than that, it features Le Guin demonstrating her amazing ability to take familiar fantasy ideas, leach all the facile black-and-while simplicity out of them, and give them back to us as something different and human and true.

Recommended, with or without reading the first book.
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LibraryThing member satyridae
Set in the same world as Gifts, with some of the same characters, this one isn't really a sequel. Memer is a strong and complex character, and we see the shifting, war-torn world through her eyes. Le Guin is in fine form here, almost terse, poetic, and pithy. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member MyopicBookworm
I read this without realizing it was the sequel to another book, but it didn't matter at all. The interplay betweeen the cultured, gently polytheistic people of Ansul and their self-confident, often brutal, monotheistic and grapheclastic* conquerors is nicely drawn. The Alds share many of the typical attitudes of traditionalist societies (chiefly misogyny and religious intolerance), making the book a clear critique of those outlooks. (Modern readers will inevitably think of Muslim culture, but the Alds perhaps resemble Crusaders in Jerusalem almost as much as they do Muslims in Europe.) Since the perspective is that of the conquered, and the Alds are a purely miltary (and hence male) presence, we see little to admire in Ald society, beyond the wary tolerance shown by their leader, the Gand Ioratth.

As one might expect in the aftermath of religiously-inspired conquest, the memory of violence pervades the book as an undercurrent, though actual violence is almost invariably off-stage. I have to say that, although I have great sympathy with the book's peacemaking agenda, I did wonder whether its optimism in the end was realistic. The overthrow of an oppressive theocratic and military occupation must, in the real world, usually require less poetry and more blood; but then, there are clear hints that there is a greater tension between the Alds' religious and military leaders than can be reasonably laid out in the course of the story.

All in all, a very well-crafted, thought-provoking, and satisfying novel.

MB 20-viii-2009

* Sorry, I just made this up: like "iconoclastic", but for writings rather than images.
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LibraryThing member nkmunn
a city under occupation must learn to live without books and becomes increasingly illiterate until special circumstances arise. I loved the portrayal of how learning to read empowers individuals and how the preservation of the written word can help a culuture survive oppression.
LibraryThing member mattsya
Leguin is one of the best science fiction/fantasy authors in the genre's history and she demonstrates her skill in this YA series. Voices is the second of the Annals of the Western Shore saga, but works as a stand-alone volume. Here is a fantasy world where books are outlawed and are kept hidden from an oppressive ruling society. Le Guin, by making books a near-magical item, and by writing with near-magical prose demonstrates the power books can hold. Unlike other fantasy series such as Golden Compass and Tamora Pierce, the story is not bogged down by esoteric jargon. Fantasy fans and non-fans will be able to appreciate this.… (more)
LibraryThing member AnnaOok
Sequel to Gifts.
What can I say -- I would need a separate rating system for Le Guin. So yes, I'm biased... This may not be her best book ever (which is why I'm not giving it 5 stars), but it is extremely good -- I don't think at this stage she can write a book that is less than extremely good. The craft in the writing is enough to make me cry; the story and the "content" are all good.
I hadn't noticed that it was meant to be a children's book. Whatever: I don't understand marketing categories, anyway :-)
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LibraryThing member deliriumslibrarian
I found the world of Gifts a little alienating, maybe even a little simplistic in its bleak feudalism. But I liked the central characters, especially Gry, and was delighted to find her here, in this astonishing novel about the invasion of a city by fanatical troops from faraway looking for a dark weapon of evil. Le Guin never only offers critique -- her vision of peaceful activism is beyond inspiring - it fills me with tears, with an ache, not just with breath. The world is fully-realised. A classic.… (more)
LibraryThing member alice443
I found this story more engaging than Gifts, possibly because it is longer and I had the time to slow down and really absorb the story.
LibraryThing member Emibrarian
Pretty good book. A little slow at times. Memer is a strong female character. It also examines war and how two warring people came come to a peaceful solution.
LibraryThing member librarybrandy
I wanted to like this. Truly, I did. But I wasn't crazy about Gifts, either, so I don't know what I'd expected. I didn't fall into the world the way I do with every other book of LeGuin's I've read; it's not as engrossing or compelling. Voices hits familiar notes--religion, tolerance, war--but doesn't do anything new with them, and I don't feel engaged in the story. Not for me, but those who liked Gifts will probably like this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member charlie68
Pretty good fantasy. Some of the foreign made up words make it hard to follow sometimes. The audiobook well narrated.
LibraryThing member RefPenny
Memer lives in the city of Ansul which has been conquered by the Alds. The Alds have banned writing and burnt all the books except for those in a secret library in the Waylord's house, where Memer lives. When some travellers arrive things start to change.
LibraryThing member omphalos02
Inspired and intoxicating writing from Le Guin in this second book of the "Annals of the Western Shore" series. Memer is a young woman living in a city occupied for 17 years (her entire life) by a force of illiterate, book-hating warriors whom are now somewhat bored with the apparent pointlessness of their occupation. Gry and Orrec from the first book ("Gifts") appear in the city and are a catalyst to change. Deftly written on a number of levels, this is an extremely satifying and moving read.… (more)
LibraryThing member AltheaAnn
This is a companion book to LeGuin's earlier, "Gifts," but it also
works as a stand-alone novel. It takes place about 20 years later. The two main characters from "Gifts" do appear, but are not the main characters here.
The story takes place in an occupied and defeated country. The
invaders, distrusting and fearing the written word as a form of
demonic magic, have sought out all books to destroy them. But young Memer has grown up in a household that still secretly houses a forbidden library... and although she is a 'half-breed' child of rape,
she may also be heir to powers and mysteries that the invaders would regard as their worst fears come to life.
However, while "Voices" is an exciting, vivid and magic-filled fantasy story, it is also, like many of LeGuin's books, a serious political commentary. With their hatred of education and disrespect of women, the invaders of this story bear unavoidable parallels to
fundamentalist extremists today. However, although her dislike of such extremism is more than clear, LeGuin makes a compelling and effective argument against violence and revenge, pointing instead to the historically proven economic and social benefits of compromise,
cooperation, and a gradual understanding of each other's humanity by widely differing peoples.
Both entertaining and relevant, the world would be a better place if
everyone in it read this book, and heeded its message.
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LibraryThing member AJBraithwaite
Thoroughly enjoying this series. My only complaint is the quality of the ebook conversion. This one was better than the first, but still pretty poor in places (Aids instead of Alds, for example).

This one had strong overtones of the European treatment of native peoples - the monotheistic Alds refuse to try to understand the spiritual beliefs of the people they are colonising.… (more)
LibraryThing member bgknighton
Not quite as strong as the first book but still very enjoyable. No one has a voice quite like hers. Orred and Gry travel to a city conquered by the Alds and become in its liberation.
LibraryThing member bgknighton
Not quite as strong as the first book but still very enjoyable. No one has a voice quite like hers. Orred and Gry travel to a city conquered by the Alds and become in its liberation.
LibraryThing member LisCarey
This is a YA novel set in the same world as Le Guin’s earlier Gifts, and Orrec and Gry, from the previous book, do figure in the story. The story is completely separate, though, and it’s not necessary to have read that one in order to read this.

Memer is a young girl growing up in a city under occupation. Ansul was previously a city of learning and culture; the conquerors have looted the university and destroyed all the books in the city. Writing is demonic, because it takes words, the breath of Atth, the Alds’ god, and traps it. Memer’s household, Galvamand, was one of the leading households of the city before the Alds arrived, one of the most learned households, and a bit more than that, as we and Memer gradually learn. The house has a secret room, where some of Ansul’s books have been preserved, and the head of the household, Sulter Galva, teaches Memer to read. It’s the one bright spot in a hard and impoverished life, and for everyone’s safety they keep it secret even from the rest of their own household.

Two things upset this precarious stability. One day when she’s out doing the marketing, trying to avoid the notice of the Ald soldiers who can be capriciously violent, Memer witnesses the arrival of a Maker, a storyteller—Orrec, with Gry, and a pet lion they’ve acquired. Because of the Alds’ ban on books, and because both Alds and the citizens of Ansul greatly admire storytellers, Orrec’s arrival would have been a major event even if the lion hadn’t panicked one of the soldiers’ horses. Memer, with great presence of mind and a sense that the god of luck has taken charge of her for the day, manages to get control of the horse before it runs anyone down. In the aftermath of this, Orrec and Gry are invited to stay at Galvamand while they’re in Ansul. Since Orrec has been invited to perform for the Gand Ioratth, the Ald commander, this brings Memer into closer contact with the occupiers than she has ever experienced.

The second disruptive force is that some of the other formerly-prominent citizens of Ansul are plotting a rebellion against the Alds, and they’re consulting Sulter Galva, even though he won’t commit to taking part and isn’t convinced it’s wise to make the attempt.

Orrec and Gry offer to take Memer with them for Orrec’s performances for the Gand, and despite her own reluctance, Sulter encourages this, both so she’ll hear his best material, and so she’ll learn more about the Alds. Memer becomes one of the few people in the city with contacts on both sides. Almost against her will she starts to learn both more about the Alds, and more about the history of her own city. When word arrives that the Alds’ Gand of Gands has died, and political changes are coming that could have major repercussions for Ansul, even while the plans for rebellion are coming to a head, Memer is forced into a critical role in the crisis.

Very enjoyable.
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LibraryThing member Griffin22
Like the first volume of the trilogy, this novel is melancholy and wistful in tone. Characters from the first book are prominent, but the narrator is a teenage girl who has grown up in a brutally occupied city - in fact she is a child of violence from the first invasion. The current ruler is a relatively reasonable man, but if his violent and fanatical son inherited the role things would become much worse. The book explores the costs and benefits of fighting for freedom. It took me a long time to read because it made me feel sad every time I picked it up.… (more)
LibraryThing member yarmando
I thought that the core of this story would be the hope represented by a growing understanding and friendship between Memer, daughter of an occupied people, and Simme, the son of the repressive Alds. It was more subtle than that, and Le Guin even manages to keep this story from settling into easy "reading good, illiteracy bad" themes.… (more)

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