Tehanu (Ursula K. Le Guin 1990)

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Yes, it’s time to finally review the fourth Earthsea novel, Tehanu. This is the final book in the four book collection I bought so it might be a while before I finally review the last two Earthsea books. Tehanu returns to the character Tenar, who took up residence in the same village as Ged’s former mentor Ogion. Rejecting magic she married a farmer named Flint and had two children, becoming known as Goha. Now, years after her husband’s death and her children having left home, Ogion dies and Ged returns to the village gravely injured. In the midst of all this she meets the mysterious child Therru, whom she adopts for herself, though there is more to her than meets the eye.

In terms of characters Tenar has certainly matured. This is in part because of the large time skip between Tombs of Atuan and her current appearance. The fact that she has become a mother and experienced the pain of losing her husband, and to a lesser extent ‘losing’ her children to moving out, has become an integral part of her character. She is some respect a very feminist character due to her desire for independence and to continue living the simple life rather than becoming a powerful mage like everyone else wants her to be. To a lesser extend Ged’s development seems to mirror Tenar’s in that he too comes to desire a peaceful lifestyle after losing most of his powers in an offscreen fight of some description. This is an interesting development in part because it is one of the key aspects which brings the two characters together and makes what develops between them believable and real.

I liked the low key focus the novel seems to have. There doesn’t seem to be any world breaking events going on. Rather it focuses strictly on the characters as they try and rebuild their life. One of the best parts for me was the way the novel handled the growing romance between Tenar and Ged and the way Therru’s presence in the novel brought them together. In the end I can’t help but feel like Therru was the key aspect of the novel, the uniting mystery behind everything even if a lot of the focus was on Ged and Tenar and their desire to move away from the conflict in their lives. All in all I was quite intrigued to find out who Therru was and the answers behind her strangeness.

In some ways I like how the novel celebrates the simple life and the desire to move away from the hustle and bustle, such as that brought about while Ged was the Archmage. I liked this in part because I never liked Ged too much as the Archmage to beging with. For the first time in a while he was something more than a mentor character. This creates a contrast between this book and Tombs of Atuan since he and Tenar are now on equal footing. In fact, in some ways Tenar is now wiser and more mature than him in part because of her life experiences. An interesting and overall healthier dynamic than in Tombs of Atuan. Even thought I initially suspected that this would make the relationship hard to believe, especially the part about having loved each other ever since they met, the relationship worked well between them and I enjoyed reading it after that point.

As a whole the novel still moves at a slow pace and seems to have the lowest scale plot of the four books I’ve read so far. Even so I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable because of the way it focused on the simple life. Something about the book and its themes resonated with me even if it wasn’t the most exciting book in the world. I still think that this is one of the stronger instalments in the Earthsea series. If anything this shows that Le Guin can still write untraditional fantasy novels even years after the release of her first novel.

SCORE: 4/5

IN A WORD: UNIQUE

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