cover image GIFTS


Ursula K. Le Guin, . . Harcourt, $17 (274pp) ISBN 978-0-15-205123-5

Le Guin's (the Earthsea Cycle) fantasy, a brilliant exploration of the power and responsibility of gifts, begins as 16-year-old narrator Orrec reflects upon recent events. Emmon, a runaway Lowlander, comes to Caspromant, where Orrec's father is Brantor, or "master." Orrec and his childhood friend, Gry, from neighboring Roddmant, explain to Emmon the history of the Uplands, where various family lines live side by side, each of them with a hereditary "gift." Gry and her mother have the gift of calling animals to the hunt; for Orrec's family, the gift is "undoing" (which can cause instant death with just a glance). Orrec explains to Emmon that these act as defenses, "That's what the gifts are for, the powers—so you can protect your domain and keep your lineage pure." The teen wears a blindfold because he believes his gift is "wild," that he could cause destruction unwittingly. Le Guin insightfully chronicles the hero's gradual awakening to the other consequences of gifts and the pressure on each generation to manifest them. "By not using my gift, by refusing it, not trusting it—was I betraying it?" Orrec asks himself. Gry discovers she has the ability to train animals and refuses to use her "gift" to call them to the hunt; she wonders aloud to Orrec, "I wonder if all the gifts are backward.... They could have been healing, to begin with." And what of Orrec's mother's skill for storytelling, which she cultivated in her son? Should that be discounted because she is a Lowlander? As Le Guin poses these questions, she also explores universal coming-of-age themes, examining one's identity and falling in love. Emmon, as outsider, offers the protagonists another perspective—and an alternative. This provocative novel may well prompt teens to examine their own talents, and to ask whether they simply accept those "gifts" assigned to them by others or whether the "gifts" are their true passions. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)