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The Other Wind - Ursula Le Guin

· 3 min read

“Freedom is not the absence of commitments, but the ability to choose – and commit myself to – what is best for me.” — Paulo Coelho

I recently read The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin. It strikes a perfect balance between the mundane aspects of real, believable human lives and exciting high magic and wonder, reminiscent of "Lord of the Rings" and other classic fantasies.

I've always been a fan of low magic settings where magic seeps in softly, insidiously, and perhaps even superstitiously, rather than overtly. This preference stems from a belief that, without the crutch of spells or lengthy descriptions of battles, there's a push towards complexity and confrontation driven by personalities. Ursula K. Le Guin masters this approach, blending the best of low fantasy settings with the excitement of dragons, wizards, and grand cities. She accomplishes this by rooting her narrative in the most basic of real emotions and fears, thereby achieving a convincing believability.

One aspect I've disliked about "Lord of the Rings," especially in the films compared to the books, is the depiction of a nihilistic evil that seeks power and destruction without clear purpose. In contrast, "Game of Thrones" presents desires for power and destruction driven by motives like money, greed, or the sheer thrill of the game, achieving varying levels of believability and empathy.

Le Guin's characters embody a true fear of death and insecurity, driven by simpler, more relatable motivations. She conceptually ties these elements together, creating something deeply convincing. Despite the grand scale of her world, the meditative style of magic she employs adds an ephemeral, intangible quality to the spirituality of naming.

Le Guin manages to present a mix of great myth and legend with humanity and mundanity, achieving a remarkable balance. "The Other Wind" consistently explores themes thoughtfully, developing a more contemplative approach to writing across the series, arguably peaking in this installment.

The book feels distinct from others in the series, such as "A Wizard of Earthsea" or "The Tombs of Atuan," offering a grander scale in some books while focusing more intimately on female characters in others. I appreciate this focus, as it brings a much-needed intimacy to the saga.

While "The Other Wind" may seem like it could lead to an epic conclusion, especially with its emphasis on death, it instead focuses on the complexities of Lebannen's life as king and the true nature of power and happiness. As an exploration of character and themes Le Guin holds dear, it succeeds, although the plot's pacing and its somewhat abrupt conclusion may leave readers feeling unsatisfied.

Each character is distinct and complex, making their stories engaging. However, the sheer number of characters introduced can dilute the depth of exploration compared to books like "The Tombs of Atuan," where we get to know a single character more intimately.

The finality of this book in the series brings a powerful conclusion, although leaving behind certain characters feels disappointing, especially given their development throughout the saga. Le Guin's writing style remains delightful, offering a balance between simplicity and a rich, descriptive vocabulary.

In conclusion, "The Other Wind" is a wonderful book that explores interesting themes and provides a satisfying conclusion to the Earthsea saga. It allows us to meet and revisit great characters, though the plot may conclude more abruptly than some might expect. Despite this, it stands as a triumph in Le Guin's body of work.