The one with the blind wizard

Ursula Le Guin, Gifts (2004)

I wanted to try young adult fantasy for a while, so I thought Ursula Le Guin was a good reference point. The truth: that’s the only name that came to mind as I walked through the young adult shelves at the library. Neil Gaiman was another, but there wasn’t any translated title available.

As a newbie in that area I noticed that young adult fantasy literature is often series of 3 books with cryptic but related titles, and heavily air-brushed cover art. Is it a convention of the genre? Ironically enough, as I am more familiar with Victorian literature than 21st century YA, I wondered if it wasn’t a strange resurgence of the Triple Decker, or just an unconscious nod to the mammoth trilogy of the Lord of the Ring.

Anyway. Gifts is the first tome of the Annals of the Western Shore, a land that resembles Middle-ages.

The book is told by Orrec, a young blind man who lives in the remotest regions of this land, a place that feels like Scotland. Clan owners there have gifts, magical powers, like being able to call animals, or make people sick, or destroy, for which they are respected and feared. But at the time the story starts, their heyday is already in the past. They retain a certain power, but their estates have faded, their wealth is over, people from the city no longer fear them as much because they don’t really believe in their gifts anymore.

The narrator is the heir of one such estate and should be proud to have a strong gift of “unmaking”, so strong in fact that he has to go around blindfolded for fear to destroy stuff (and people) unwittingly. We get to learn about Orrec’s family and childhood and how he copes with his gift. It’s a classic coming-of-age story.

It was hard for me to really connect with Orrec. I wasn’t really disturbed by the fantasy part, the imaginary land and the magical powers. In fact, I kind of liked it. But Orrec’s story was quite low-key and slow-paced. I could guess most of the story beforehand. Orrec’s girlfriend Gry was a far more interesting character in my opinion, but she didn’t get as much space in the book.

My first dip into this new-to-me genre was not a failure, but not enough for me to embark in the complete trilogy. But I’ll certainly try another Ursula Le Guin one day.

Any other YA fantasy recommendation?

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5 thoughts on “The one with the blind wizard

  1. The Earthsea tetralogy is the best Ursula Le Guin – unforgettable, I’ve just recently bought them for my children (and to reread them myself). Have you read Philip Pullman ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy? Yes, I know they all seem to be trilogies and require a lot of time commitment, but just try the first one and you will be hooked.

    • Wow, a tetralogy instead of a trilogy, now that would be groundbreaking 😉 ! I’ll check it up at the library (all the YA section is translated, so I’m not sure what’s available). I had seen the movie the Golden compass on my maternity leave but it was so-so (supposedly the book is way better, but I never got round to read it).

  2. Oh, I have a totally good recommendation: Franny Billingsley’s Chime. It is weird and particular, and it’s not part of a trilogy (although a YA fantasy trilogy can be great fun, viz. Holly Black’s Curse Worker books or Sarah Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy ones). Or also you could try Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, which is excellent as well.

    • Thanks so much Jenny. I checked all the titles you recommended. My local library has Chime and it seems like a good fit to me. They have Coldtown too but I’m not sure about vampires. And no Lynburn Legacy over here unfortunately…

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