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Tales From Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin

01/01/2003. Contributed by Phil Jones

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pub: Orion. 296 page hardback. Price: 10.99 (UK). ISBN: 1-84255-206-6.

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'Tales from Earthsea' includes five short stories spread across the history of Earthsea and a section at the end entitled 'A Description of Earthsea'. The book starts off with an introduction by LeGuin and two new maps of Earthsea.

The introduction describes how LeGuin foolishly thought she had finished writing about Earthsea with the book 'Tehanu: The Last Book Of Earthsea'.

These stories and the description of Earthsea are the author's deeper delving into the world of Earthsea and its history and background. To quote LeGuin, 'So these are reports of my explorations and discoveries: tales from Earthsea for those who have liked or think they might like the place, and who are willing to accept these hypotheses:- things change: authors and wizards are not always to be trusted: nobody can explain a dragon.

The first tale, 'The Finder', is the story of Otter - his life story. Growing up as a son of a ship-builder and discovering he had 'gifts' which when they are discovered by the men of power, he is cast into slavery in a mine and forced to act as a seeker.

Through his torment, he finds a kindred spirit and escapes and goes on to form the school on the island of Roke. This is a beautifully crafted tale introducing the world of Earthsea. It reveals the embryonic creation and the history of a lot of the customs and institutions that were to follow.

It also shows LeGuin's ability for multi-layered characters and includes plenty of high and low points, all of which are vital to short stories.

It does have the feeling that you are reading a translation of an old text, almost as though you are reading a Nordic legend.

'Darkrose and Diamond' is at its most basic a love story, but it explores whether two people's emotions can bridge the gap between conventions. 'The Bones of the Earth', which was nominated for a Hugo award, is a quiet tale of an old wizard Dulse and his last apprentice, Silence.

The wizard who is very talkative makes the ultimate sacrifice. Out of all the stories, this was my favourite because it deals so well with human emotion and simple story-telling.

'On The High Marsh' is set in a remote village where a stranger arrives and stays with a woman, Gift, and says he is a curer. After resting, he goes about the surrounding land curing cattle infected with a plague.

Things start to untangle when he meets with another curer in the village and problems arise. The village as a whole takes a bad view of this man but Gift still takes him in. This tale explores the fact that domination isn't everything and happiness can be found in the simplest of things.

The last story, 'Dragonfly', is a prelude to the book 'The Other Wind'. It follows the story of a girl as she grows up. She is told and realises herself that she has a gift, but no one will tell her what it is or help her find it. Through the help of a disgruntled wizard who thinks he can take advantage of her she enters the school on Roke when women are not permitted to learn there.

This is probably the weakest of all the short stories because it feels unfinished. The characters are interesting, especially Dragonfly, but it somehow feels a bit lacking.

Overall, these are wonderfully written short stories that stand up to inspection in their own right but together make a very enjoyable collection.

I've never read anything by LeGuin before and although the author recommends you to read the previous Earthsea books, I think this is a good place to start if you are new to the series as it provides a good all round introduction to the world of Earthsea.

Fans will love this book, providing a glimpse into different periods in the history of Earthsea but also some beautifully crafted characters and tales. I eagerly await reading the other Earthsea books.

Phil Jones

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