Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin

Read: 6 December, 2007

Book jacket summary: Scattered among poor, desolate farms, the families of the Uplands possess gifts. Wondrous gifts: the ability – with a glance, a gesture, a word – to summon animals, bring forth fire, move the land. Fearsome gifts: They can twist a limb, chain a mind, inflict a wasting illness. The Uplanders live in constant fear that one family might unleash its gifts against another.

Two young people, friends since childhood, decide not to use their gifts. One, a girl, refuses to bring animals to their death in the hunt. The other, a boy, wears a blindfold lest his eyes and his anger kill.

So that wasn’t entirely laziness on my part. It’s a fairly difficult story to describe in a few short words. OK, so maybe it was partially laziness…

I’d like to start off by saying that I’m a huge Le Guin fan. Her Earthsea books were my first taste of fantasy (and probably the reason why I don’t read much fantasy – very few books compare). From that perspective, I found Gifts to be a little disappointing. I could see hints of what made her other books (like the Earthsea cycle or Left Hand of Darkness) so amazing, but they didn’t seem to come together in as solid a book as I might have hoped. That being said, it was still a very good story.

One of the things I like best about Le Guin is that her stories tend to be character driven more than anything else. Several chapters might go by before something really happens or there’s any action, but her books are interesting and readable from start to finish regardless. This was present in Gifts as well.

I also enjoyed that Gifts didn’t wrap up or give the sense of a completed story. Rather, it mimicked life – ending with a new story beginning. This makes the characters feel alive, it makes them feel like they really exist somewhere and we readers are merely getting a chapter from their lives.

The characters themselves were fairly well constructed. They all felt real and distinct. However, I found that Orrec seemed to think in a strange way. He would come to a conclusion that isn’t necessarily obvious and then hold to it as fact. It’s almost as though Le Guin wanted X to happen but wasn’t sure how to do it, so she implanted the thought into one of the characters’ heads. This wouldn’t be such a problem (heaven knows we all believe things that aren’t strictly backed with facts) except that he’s always right.

One of the classic Le Guin traits that made it into Gifts is the real world theme conveyed by the story. In this case, dealing with power. There aren’t many authors who are able to carry both theme and story as Le Guin does and she does so quite well in this story.

In conclusion, this isn’t my favourite book, but it isn’t my least favourite either. If you have a spare afternoon and don’t know what to read, this is a great choice. On the other hand, I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it either.

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