The Tombs of Atuan is the second book of the Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin. I have only reviewed the first one recently and I was surprised by how quickly I read through the sequel. The book wasn’t too long and the chapters were of a nice length, and so here I am to give my verdict. The book follows a girl Tenar, who is stolen from her family to become High Priestess in service to the ‘Nameless Ones’ and is renamed Arha. She is embroiled in the political conflicts of older priestesses Thar and Kossil, eventually coming into conflict with the latter. However her life is eventually shaken up when Ged, the protagonist of the previous books ventures in the labyrinth in search of the lost half of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, an item which can bring peace to Earthsea.
Like A Wizard of Earthsea the book is a coming of age story, only this time it surrounds Tenar rather than Ged, with the latter being more of a side character. I quite like Tenar as a character but at times she seems rather passive in her role in the plot, particularly after Ged comes onto the scene. After he arrives the story seems to shift to him trying to convince her that he is friendly and ultimately, to leave with him and abandon her role as priestess.
The story seemed to take a while to get going and but once it did it became intriguing. The addition of an antagonist, Kossil was interesting when compared to the more internal antagonist of the shadow from the previous book. In some ways she’s sort of Tenar’s shadow since she is corrupt and blatantly misusing her power to create suffering for the people of the kingdom. My one problem is her lack of role in the climax and the overall lack of climax to the conflict between her and Tenar, which seems to come to an abrupt deus ex machina end without too much of a direct confrontation in my opinion.
The story towards the end felt more like it was about Tenar and Ged and Tenar finally finding the strength to shake off the influence of the Nameless Ones and become herself again. It was an intriguing story until the ending but I feel like Guin could have provided us a bit of a payoff with regards to the other characters. I feel like some of them were rather abruptly forgotten about so that the main plot could progress and thinking back the ending leaves a lot unanswered.
The one positive is that the ending didn’t feel quite as abrupt when compared to that of A Wizard of Earthsea, but like that book the ending seems to be the weaker area. Maybe because I like books with a bit more substance, endings with unnecessary ambiguity can leave me feeling a bit cheated. Books which are intentionally written this way and feel like the ending was supposed to be ambiguous are fine with me but with Tombs of Atuan left me feeling like there should have been answers somehow. With certain areas such as the Nameless Ones I felt a bit confused and lacking in that department.
Overall the book is a brilliant book with some strong themes but the whole coming of age thing was something I had already seen in A Wizard of Earthsea and somehow the setting of this book felt a bit more limited. In some ways it has vastly i improved from its predecessor while in other ways I feel disappointed. I think I’d probably say the fact that I have mixed feelings makes it weaker than A Wizard of Earthsea overall. That being said Tenar was an interesting character so if she shows up in some fashion in the next couple of books I won’t be disappointed.
IN A WORD: OKAY