Ursula K. LeGuin
Completed 12/18/2018, Reviewed 12/20/2018
This is Le Guin’s first published novel, and the beginning of what later became known as the Hainish Cycle. It has a prologue which takes place many years before the rest of the novel. The prologue was originally released as a short story, and reads like one. The book as a whole is not a great book, but it is entertaining, sort of a mix between fantasy and science fiction. It has a mythic journey with beings that are like elves and dwarves, and introduces such concepts as the Ekumen, known here as the League of All Worlds, and the ansible, the instantaneous faster than light communication device. I enjoyed the book, but this was not her best. This book was part of a collection of her first three Hainish books.
The book begins with Semley, the queen of her race, one of three races of intelligent beings on the planet known only as Formalhaut II. She and her husband are no longer wealthy, but she remembers an heirloom necklace that belonged to the family many years before. She decides to search for it among one of the other races. She finds it in the most amazing of places, but its discovery also leads to heartbreak later.
Fast forward a generation, and Gaverel Rocannon, a Hainish scientist, is shipwrecked on Formalhaut II. The planet is being attacked by a planet that is rebelling against the Ekumen, unbeknownst to the League. Rocannon wants to warn the Ekumen, but the only way he can is to infiltrate the enemy’s base and use their ansible. He embarks on a journey to the base, taking along Semley’s grandson, and several other companions from the other races. They fly on creatures that are a sort of winged tiger for most of the trip. As the journey progresses, Rocannon becomes a mythic figure himself to the planet and to the Ekumen.
The plot moves along at a fairly decent pace. There’s action in this book. The journey is not simply an opportunity to reflect on concepts, but things actually happen. For example, Rocannon gets separated from the team and gets captured by a group of barbarians. They try to behead him and burn him at the stake, believing him to be a spy of the north.
What this book is lacking is Le Guin’s signature prose. It’s evident in the prologue, but not so much later on. It felt choppy in parts. At times, it didn’t even feel like a Le Guin novel, but rather a pulp novel from the fifties. I blame that on this being her first novel. I’m already reading her second novel and the prose in that book is leaps and bounds better.
I give this book three stars out of five. It’s decent, but not her best. Perhaps the best thing about this book is that it gives you the foundation technology for the science in the rest of the Hainish Cycle. While each book I’ve read so far in the Cycle is a standalone story, it was interesting to see how the concepts were initially introduced. Since a lot of people have already read “Left Hand of Darkness” and/or “The Dispossessed”, suffice it to say that the books can be read in any order. While I only thought the book was okay, it was fun to see where it all started.