When we left Earthsea the wizard Ged Sparrowhawk had finally come into his power and we had started to explore the amazing world this story was set in. The Tombs of Atuan is a completely different story in which Ged is actually a side character, but happily this just makes it a better book. For this story we head to the Kargad Lands, a group of four islands in which the "barbarian" and fair Kargads live, ruled by their godking. In this land is an island called Atuan on which a mystic area is filled with temples to the various gods that are worshipped in these islands. One of these groups of gods are called the Nameless Ones, a force that lives in dark places and demands bloody sacrifices to appease it. These Nameless Ones also happen to be the top gods in the pantheon of the Kargads. To this purpose a single priestess attends to the rituals, this priestess is supposed to be endless and when the old priestess dies it is assumed she is reborn into the body of a girl born on the day she dies. To this end we meet our heroine Tenar, a girl who is ripped from her family at a young age and given the identity of Ahra which means The Eaten One. The girl who
becomes the priestess is trained by older women who impart to her the ancient knowledge passed down by countless generations of Eaten Ones. As Tenar explores her dark domain, she feels a proud and protective power. She knows she is the top priestess and technically whatever she says is law. She at one point orders the murder of prisoners sent to her by the godking to appease her dark gods, an act which haunts her. The domain of the Nameless ones is largely in the unlit underground of an ancient and crumbling temple. There is also a labyrinth which has is treasure room in the middle guarding perhaps the most valuable treasure of all, half of the ring of Erreth-Akbe, a powerful ring, with runes that could help heal the fragmented world of Earthsea. Eventually Ged Sparrowhawk finds his way into the tombs and is trapped by Tenar. Through many conversations, and an already shaky resolve, the pair decide to make a run for it. Ged informs Tenar that her gods are actually malevolent beings who have been pushed back into tiny pockets such as the temple she is attached too. The beings while powerful, are not omnipotent and need the dark to survive. Tenar defies them and rescues Ged, culminating in the total destruction of the temple and it's underground labyrinths. Ged takes Tenar with him, promising her she did the right thing and vowing to help her find a home that suites her unique temperament.
As with all my attempts at summing up a book, I am woefully lacking in what makes this story great, so go read it for yourself. As for why I liked this book...well...'cause I did. Also because it was just as beautifully written as the first book. The author knows how to create a world, even better she knows how to create individual places within a world. The island of Atuan was rendered in such a way that I felt like I was there among the cold dessert dunes, and I also felt I knew its place in the overall world. I enjoyed the fact that we got to see a completely different culture then the one we saw in the first book, the lands of Kargard, along with several other things were mentioned in the first book and the fact that they got fully fleshed out in this second book, just made the world seem even more real and more complete (she even told us how the brother and sister got stuck on the island from the last book). This was definitely a book with some dark pieces in it, but I thought it was wonderfully balanced by hope and personality. I liked Tenar and her various transformations in view point. She started as a scared child, grew to a petulant girl, became a power-loving priestess and then ultimately (in this book at least) saw where her beliefs could be harmful. All of the
transformations came about in a realistic, believable fashion, no instant revelation of goodness, or morality, just a girl who is trying to figure out life. I also liked how even after she helped Ged escape, she continued to have doubts and fear about leaving the only life she had ever known. Ged was once again a fantastic character. He is never portrayed as all powerful or all knowing, just a guy with a talent and some very hard earned wisdom. One of the many things I feel this author does well is portray cultures in a familiar yet not stereotypical way. Many times authors will ascribe most of a certain culture to a certain race in their worlds, a way to make it more relatable to the readers, or because that is just how we think, I'm not really sure, but Ms. LeGuin takes a bit of a different route. While reading about the Kargards I got hints of Viking, Indian, Native American, and several African cultures, all while putting an original twist to the Kargard people. I know that several people find this to be the best book in the series, and I totally understand why. It is a fantastic addition to this amazing world, wrought by a fantastic author. I however cannot make a fair comparison to the first book as they are different in many wonderful ways. I am super excited to get and read the next book and hope that the journey to Earthsea continues to be as rewarding as the first two books. I give this book an 8 out of 10 Runes of Power. Also the cover rocks...also the font used for the Earthsea title is AWESOME...also...nope, out of also's :-)
Which is your favorite book in this series? Do you ever get nervous reading a second book in a series? Does this post make any sense 'cause if not I blame the tequila :-) ?