Title: City of Illusions
Author: Ursula K Le Guin
Genre: Fantasy/ Sci-Fi
First Publication date: 1967
He was a fully grown man, alone in dense forest, with no trail to show where he had come from and no memory to tell who — or what — he was.
His eyes were not the eyes of a human.
The forest people took him in and raised him almost as a child, teaching him to speak, training him in forest lore, giving him all the knowledge they had. But they could not solve the riddle of his past, and at last he had to set out on a perilous quest to Es Toch, the City of the Shining, the Liars of Earth, the Enemy of Mankind.
There he would find his true self… and a universe of danger.
Well! Here we are already on the third book of the series and finally I am excited. City of Illusions is, no doubt, the most suspenseful and well-planned book by Ursula Le Guin (in my humble opinion). I was getting kind of scared that I would be utterly disappointed by the Hainish cycle but I can see hope at the end of the tunnel.
In City of Illusions we move back to Earth, hundreds of years in the future, where people, our people, are forced to live a simple life and are afraid of advancing in any field of technology since the Shings, the Liars of Earth, the Enemy of Mankind, the bad guys, would destroy them.
One day a strange man with cat-like eyes appears in the quiet settlement of one of those human people, unable to speak or understand anything. They decide to take care of him and teach him everything a small child would need to survive. Once he has learned enough he sets on a quest to find who he is and where he came from since clearly, he is not a human and he is not from around.
Falk, this is the name given to our main character, goes through countless of obstacles to reach the city of Es Toch, the city of the Shings, only to find a truth nobody expects. I’ll just take a second here to say how happy I am with the mystery element and the fact that I had absolutely no idea would happen to Falk or what had happened to his memories. The suspense was used masterfully and Le Guin gave us element after element to lead us in the direction she wanted us to go just so that the final conflict could escalate even further. I love books that are not black and white and this is one such example — it set a conflict and the main character had no idea which is right and which is wrong (and neither did the reader) so it makes your brain work, it makes you measure the possibilities and the alternatives along with the hero. It puts you in the hero’s shoes, helping him make the choice.
I can’t say the book is without faults though. In the beginning when Falk is basically with the brain of a newborn and his new ‘family’ finds him, things go slow — which is okay. We need time to build momentum and we need time to learn about the new world, its problems and differences. However, the pace stays slow for the rest of the book too — with the exception of the last twenty pages maybe. I mean, he gets beaten up a few times, meets a few people who conveniently give him the information he needs for later on(although he NEVER listens to their advice before it is too late) but Le Guin spends more time describing the trees and the landscape than the actual interaction between those people. I stand by the idea that details are needed to bring the world to life but those are given all at once and are so irrelevant and repetitive that you can easily skip them and miss nothing important.
The other thing that bugs me is that neither Falk, nor the rest of the main characters in the Hainish cycle are very likable or relatable. For Falk, I understood the need of naivety and childish simplicity but even children don’t get burnt on the stove twice. What I mean, basically, is that in order for me to fall in love with a book I need A) to fall in love with the characters or B) to fall in love with the plot. And since the plots so far have been quite simplistic and uncomplicated while the characters were dull or unrealistic this meant there was this disconnect to the story that was preventing me from enjoying it to the fullest.
Luckily, City of Illusions took a step in the right direction, at least as far as plot is concerned, so it gets 4/5 rating and a thumbs up. I do hope things pick up the pace from here and it only gets better.
What about you? What rating would you give? What are your thoughts and takes on City of Illusions?