The sorcerer Alder has the power of mending, but it may have become the power of destruction: every night he dreams of the wall between the land of the living and the land of the dead, and the wall is being dismantled. If the wall is breached, the dead will invade Earthsea. Ged, once Archmage of Earthsea, sends Alder to King Lebannen. Now Alder and the king must join with a burned woman, a wizard of forbidden lore, and a being who is woman and dragon both, in an impossible quest to save Earthsea.
It has turned out to be an enjoyable book - mostly as a return to many prior characters at a much later time in their lives. Big things afoot but it plays out, at a pretty easygoing pace. A notable lack of woman-bashing in this book makes me wonder all the more what happened with Tehanu (#4).
Upon finishing I find "The Other Wind" to be a satisactory finish to the Earthsea series. Many different things from among the novels and shorter stories are wrapped up here and there is a sense of finality about it all, a sense that the well travelled road is behind us.
I liked this story quite a bit.
In some ways, LeGuin's resolution is just as radical as Philip Pullman's His dark Materials, which has received much more attention. I won't go into the details here, in order to avoid spoilers, but I will add my comments to the current Earthsea thread in the Green Dragon.
Le Guin is a writer of many strengths, and I think the Earthsea books showcase them all wonderfully. Her writing is lovely, compellingly readable, and scattered through with apt turns of phrase and with imagery that that seems to tap directly into a deep place in your brain. Her world-building is thoughtful and skillfully presented. This particular volume doesn't showcase her ability to weave together plot and theme so well, as it's a bit short on the former. But it does beautifully demonstrate her ability to take large, abstract ideas -- relationships between kingdoms, origin myths, an exploration of the boundaries between life and death -- and ground them beautifully in small, poignant, human details.
If this final installment comes across as something of an afterthought -- and I think it does -- it's at least one that's worth reading.
So I was looking forward to this novel: I wanted it to put right both failings in the previous novel, and while it tells a good story, it doesn't, I feel, address the threads that were left hanging. It's an excellent story. Its protagonist, a village sorceror named Alder, is a quiet and gentle hero, worthy of Sparrowhawk, and his love story forms a lovely basis to the rest of the plot. (Which reminds me, mostly, of The Amber Spyglass - the same themes, the same swipes at the Christian fetishisation of the afterlife, are there, and it's interesting to note that this very specific plot point should have been replicated over two novels published at a very similar time.)
Tenar, as always, is a good character. But Tehanu, who ought to be the heroine of this book, shrinks into the background for the vast majority of it, and Orm Irian, the woman-as-dragon who also ought to be a heroine, serves no clearly-defined purpose.And without the mythic, resonant style of the previous novels, there is very little of the epic feel to the stories that they do have.
In conclusion - Le Guin is always worth reading, and so is a novel of Earthsea. But I was disappointed.
I was not disappointed in the conclusion, necessarily, but it did seem a bit of a let down...perhaps she just preferred to leave the rest to the reader's imagination. Or maybe The Other Wind wasn't the last book...who knows?
Overall, an absolutely wonderful and enjoyable series, with its ups and downs, but the characters become like friends through the books and I especially enjoyed the second trilogy, written later and with a bit more focus on the women. It was like LeGuin had gone back with different glasses on and reread the first 3 books and wondered why they didn't have a very big role - then righted it by challenging the beliefs that were taken for granted in the initial series.
I loved being back with Ged, Tenar, Tehanu, and even king Lebannen. We also meet Alder and revisit Irian, from the short Dragonfly. I loved seeing how the events of all the stories shaped the characters we’ve known through several books, as well as the world and the magic in it.
The end was a little less exciting than I’d hoped. I had to read a few scenes a second time because I was like, “Was that it?” But if it had been a showy ending, it wouldn’t have fit with the tone of the series.
I also enjoyed that not everything was tied up in a neat little bow. Obviously, this is the last Earthsea novel we’ll get, but LeGuin intended for it to be the last. I like that there are some lingering questions and the possibility of other stories, even though LeGuin isn’t around to right them. The end struck the right balance for me between resolution and open-ended.
By and large it does: the first chapter, Mending the Green Pitcher is a joy. The current state of affairs is effectively and pleasantly presented, we visit with Ged (who is minding Ogion's old farm while Tenar & Tehanu assist King Lebannen on Havnor) and are introduced to Alder, a recently bereaved village sorcerer who is having particularly unsettling dreams, dreams that will eventually unsettle the foundations of Earthsea itself.
A large slab of the story takes place at the court of Lebannen, and that's where it came just a tad unstuck for me. I still enjoyed the characters and concepts explored, but it got a bit... untidy.
Finally most everyone choofs off to Roke for a denouement that is excellently done. The history and traditions of dragons, be they winged or not, Kargs, the Pelnish and Archipelagans come together in a most satisfactory manner. (You can tell I'm trying not to drop any major hints, can't you!)
Without shame I admit to tears of mingled happiness and sympathy at the end. And not a few times before that as well. Two scenes come most strongly to mind: the night of dreams, when we are shown the unconscious wanderings of various characters, and this declaration by Tehanu which comes not far from the end (I don't believe it gives anything away but shall label it as a spoiler all the same so you can choose to see it or not) --
I don't think I'll ever look at the stars in the same way again.
As I have remarked in past reviews, I love Ged - so I was glad to see him reappear for a while longer in this book in his old age in his house next to the cliff harvesting plums and herding goats.
The premise is beautiful as always, regarding freedom and choice as a yoke and decision we humans make. It delves into philosophies of death and immortality and the longings of the human heart.
However, there were a few major issues I have with the book.
For some reason, (this happened in the fourth book as well) but I have come to the realization that I dislike Tenar. I believe she is the culmination of the Le Guin's conception of the power of women in a man's world. But she comes across more as self-righteous and bitterly angry for the weakness of women rather than pushing forward for a woman's voice in the books. I am appreciative of her trying to show how the Red Princess was made of courage and strength to be shipped to an unknown place powerless and alone. But I am taken aback by the way, the wording, the scorn she refers to men in general. It's strange because she so clearly loves Ged and Lebannen and has motherly affection, but when Tenar philosophizes about the nature of woman and men, it becomes very divided. But I really think the reason I am turned off by her personality is that self-righteous tone. How she speaks so little to make men understand but gets angry at them for things they have no idea that they're doing. It's like a passive-aggressive person. You can see it in how she refers to herself and the Red Princess conspiring against Lebannen, etc.
Going off of that, I also very much disliked the relationship and depiction of Lebannen and the Red Princess. It was my understanding that Lebannen didn't want the marriage because he did not want to be sold or bartered in a mockery of a relationship. But Tenar refers to the situation instead as a king's duty and remarks that he had never shied from that before - and she even becomes angry that he would not want to marry the princess. Is that really so strange?!
And then because they start finding each other attractive, that mitigates the initial problem of not wanting to be a stepping stone for the Kurgish throne? Where did his initial problem go? I don't understand. I don't understand at all.
However, there were many beautiful things about this book. I love how it wove every single novel together. From the first book we are reminded of how Ged learned to call goats and was saved by the small tongue of an otak. (By the way, Tug the cat is just adorable). From the short stories, we remember Irian and her dragon form. Of course Lebannen and Tenar are major characters from past books. It is all woven together and brought into one true story when all of the characters gather at the center of the world: Roke.
Three stars. Beautiful if not for certain issues. But a good ending to the series.
I would recommend this series for people who love a slower type of science fiction and fantasy novel.
It's been a while since I read the Earthsea Trilogy, so I'd forgotten the sheer beauty of her language, and the charming intricacies of her plots. I couldn't put the book down!