Ursula K. Le Guin (and Voices for 409)

These three books share a world as a setting, and have a few characters in common, but they are not a conventional series like the Harry Potter books or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The relationship is a bit like that of The Hobbit to The Fellowship of the Ring. We begin with a story of Orrec Caspro as a boy, but years are lost between the first and second books; the next book shows him as an accomplished and renowned poet. It's like The Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones, which skips Christopher Chant's middle years entirely, showing him only as boy and then as master.

High on desolate, rocky hills live lonely peoples whose supernatural gifts allow them to unmake, sicken, or injure one another. These small bands do constant battle for the scant resources that are there. Orrec and Gry have been friends all their lives, and they hope to marry, but their families each have planned other marriages in order to increase their wealth. Orrec struggles with blindness that his father imposes on him to keep him from "harming" others with his "great power." In fact, Orrec has not inherited the power, and the blindfold is a ruse to intimidate others who might take his land or livestock. Gry brings Orrec a guide dog, trains him up with the power of animal calling that she has inherited. However, she refuses to use that power to call animals to the hunt, as she is expected to do. In the end, Orrec sheds his blindfold, and the two of them leave the Uplands for adventures unknown.

This would be a great novel to read in 409, Storytelling. It has so many elements that are inherent to the course, including an understanding of stories as a deep part of cultural heritage and therefore enmeshed at times in cultural conflicts. An occupying army keeps the people of Ansul down and and drives their literary heritage underground. The invader culture is oral-only and despises books. In the house of Galvamand, there is a female heroine, 17-year-old Memer, who guards the treasure of her house along with her elderly master, the oldest man of the house. While women were free in Ansul before, the invaders force women to hide, and so Memer spends many of her days disguised as a boy. Orrec and Gry figure into the story as wandering storytellers; Orrec Caspro has become a famous poet in the years since Gifts. This is the best of the three books in this new series.

Gavir was raised a slave, and knows no other life, until one day his sister is killed by a cruel and heartless son of the household where he is slave. This sparks a journey of insanity, escaping to the forest, to a wild hermit, then a band of brothers, then a forest city, back to the marsh people from which he came, and finally to the north, to a free city and to the university where Orrec Caspro resides and teaches. This is a slow-going book, and one that requires faith in Le Guin's storytelling, but it is worth it in the end.

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