Ursula K. LeGuin
Completed 12/22/2018, Reviewed 12/24/2018
This is Le Guin’s second published novel and the second in the Hainish Cycle. It’s a short easy read. It’s also the first book that feels like her prose has come together for her. I didn’t care so much for her prose in her first book, but this one felt like a Le Guin novel. I also found the ending in this book to be a little flat, ending abruptly. However, my overall reaction to the book is much more positive, with the plot and the prose working to create a decent novel.
This book takes place on the planet Werel, seeded by the Hainish millennia ago. It is a pre-wheel society with multiple races, the barbarians in the north and the more culturally advanced Tevarans in the south. The planet has a large, highly eccentric orbit where their year is equivalent to 60 of our years, and their seasons are like ours, but last fifteen years each. Modern humans have come to Werel, but have been stranded on the planet for 10 Years. That’s 600 of our years. They are the aliens, called “farborns” by the Tevarans and are looked upon with suspicion as witches. However, they are dying out, with low birth rates and failing technology.
Even though the relationship between the Tevarans and the aliens is tentative at best, they both have a common enemy, the Gaals, the barbarians of the north. Instead of their normal raids as winter approaches, they have all united into one mighty army to conquer the Tevarans and the aliens. The only chance the Tevarans and farborn have is to unite and fight together. But because the Tevarans look upon the farborn with suspicion, the alliance is very tentative and the slightest breach of etiquette could destroy it. So when the leader of the farborn and a granddaughter of the Tevaran ruler get together, they walk on dangerous ground.
While the book is about the relationship between Jakob Agat and Rolery, it is much more an anthropological study about the coming together, though not quite clashing, of different cultures. The farborn mandate is not interfere with the development of the native peoples. Thus for six hundred years, the aliens have watched as the Tevarans struggle without the wheel or almost any technology. Of course this becomes problematic as the Gaals approach.
I give this book four stars out of five. Even though the ending wasn’t exactly satisfying, the prose really was. The world building was also pretty amazing, with its seasons and interplay between the various strains of humanity.