Thursday, June 28, 2012

Finished reading "Gifts" by Ursula K. Le Guin

I liked it. The plot was solid. The characters develop nicely. Miss Guin resolves the book's conflict while leaving plenty of room for more stories. Its just...not quite what I expected from the back cover.

The plot as described there does not kick in until perhaps fifty pages in. The story is still interesting before then but its a more 'anthology' interesting than a 'gripping plot' interesting. Orrec tells the newcomer stories of his homeland. Its an 'epic lore' kind of thing. He tells about Blind Caddard and how his parents met and fell in love. Its a low energy tone but a strong low energy tone; like a sturdy work horse.
The main plot line involving Orrec and his Power Incontinence is much more gripping. See, all the families in the Uplands have superpowers but they're afraid to use them for fear of counterattack. They use edged politeness, veiled threats and other tactics to avoid open conflict. Orrec is at the center of one such conflict as a Brantor's (Lineage head and domain leader) son. Its the same level of energy but wound tight. A wrong word or move could spark a war. Its not a rapid paid turner but you'll definitely turn them.
As for characters, the progression of the main two fits the pace of the tone: its slow and sure and steady. It leads to an ending I didn't see coming. Its obvious in retrospect but it involved a twist I couldn't be prepared for. Its a whopper.
It has romance but it also has a refreshing lack of drama. I can't stand that sort of thing. There's tension yes, but its personal worth tension and family politics and making the transition from 'friend' to 'lover'. Personally I prefer this to sexual tension and betrayals etc.
I find two flaws with this book but on reflection there aren't really flaws.
1.The story begins with the leading man (Orrec) and the leading lady (Gry) explaining how the Uplands work to a stranger from the lowlands. The first chapter sets the stage in terms of geography and the families and their gifts. Its important stuff and delivered with feeling and without 'as you know' but its kinda lackluster. I wasn't interested until the second chapter.
2. The digression from the protagonist's life to that of his great grandfather and than his own father. After that it still takes over one hundred pages to reach the point where the book started: Orrec speaking with the stranger. This story structure leaves the structure and conflict of the book in limbo, but as I said above, its still interesting reading and sets up Orrec's story. Making this less of a flaw, the idea of 'telling stories' becomes a plot point at two critical junctions.
Honestly, I'm still going back and forth about giving this book five stars instead of four. Regardless its likely to be joined on my book shelf by its sequel, "Voices", in the near future.

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