Voices: Lots to think about

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Ursula Le Guin Annals of the Western Shore Voices Voices by Ursula Le Guin

In this story of the Western Shore, we meet Memer, a 17 year old girl — a “siege-brat” — who lives in the occupied land of Ansul, a city of people who used to be peaceful, prosperous, and educated but who were overtaken 17 years ago by the illiterate Alds who consider all writing to be demonic. All of the Ansul literature, history, and other books were drowned… except for a small collection of books that has been saved and hidden in a secret room in the house of Galvamand and can only be accessed by the last two people in the Galva household — Sulter Galva (the Waylord) and Memer, whose mother was a Galva.

One day, the Maker and orator Orrec, and his wife Gry, (from Gifts) come to town, stay at Galvamand, and recite to the people of Ansul and their Ald overlord, the Gand Ioratth. When Orrec recites ancient epics and poetry, including some of Ansul’s own hymns, the Gand is moved, the Ansul people are stirred to revolution, and Ioratth’s son and the Ald priests are stirred to wrath. The people of Ansul have to decide whether to revolt or to try to negotiate peacefully with the softening Gand. The situation brings up realistic (rather than fantastical) ideas about the nature of freedom, revolution, and whether it might sometimes be better to compromise, rather than fight to the death, with people who control your destiny.

The pace of Voices is slow and the entire story takes place in approximately a one-mile radius so there’s not much action but, as usual for an Ursula Le Guin novel,
the power is in the writing — it’s moving and filled with insight into the human mind and our ideas of art, literature, culture, and patriotism. She doesn’t just tell a story, but she gives us a full emotional experience and a lot to think about:

My mother’s name was Decalo Galva. I want to tell of her, but I can’t remember her. Or I do but the memory won’t go into words. Being held tight, jostling, a good smell in the darkness of the bed, a rough red cloth, a voice which I can’t hear but it’s only just out of hearing. I used to think if I could hold still and listen hard enough, I’d hear her voice.

Later:

I wonder if men find it easier than women do to consider people not as bodies, as lives, but as numbers, figures, toys of the mind to be pushed about a  battleground of the mind. This disembodiment gives pleasure, exciting them and freeing them to act for the sake of acting, for the sake of manipulating the figures, the game pieces. Love of country, or honor, or freedom, then, may be names they give that pleasure to justify it to the gods and to the people who suffer and kill and die in the game. So those words — love, honor, freedom — are degraded from their true sense. Then people may come to hold them in contempt as meaningless, and poets must struggle to give them back their truth.

It was good to meet Orrec and Gry again and to see how Orrec was using his talents. It wasn’t necessary to have read Gifts first, but it gave me greater enjoyment to understand Orrec’s past. I listened to Voices on audiobook. The reader was flawless and added much energy and emotion to the telling. I recommend this format for Voices.

Annals of the Western Shore — (2004-2007) Young adult. Powers won the Nebula Award for 2008. Publisher: Scattered among poor, desolate farms, the clans 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 gift 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.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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