Title: The Tombs of Atuan
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
First Publication date: 1970
When young Tenar is chosen as high priestess to the ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth, everything is taken away – home, family, possessions, even her name. For she is now Arha, the Eaten One, guardian of the ominous Tombs of Atuan.
While she is learning her way through the dark labyrinth, a young wizard, Ged, comes to steal the Tombs’ greatest hidden treasure, the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. But Ged also brings with him the light of magic, and together, he and Tenar escape from the darkness that has become her domain.
As I expected, I dipped my toes in the pool of fantasy and now there is no power on earth to get me out of the water 😀 I’ve missed the intricate world-building and the wizards and powerful darkness lurking in the shadows.
The Tombs of Atuan is the second book of Earthsea cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin and my favorite so far. It has the same melodic prose that was present in the first one, it has the taste of magic and secrets and it has new characters and a fresh story.
This time we follow Tenar — a girl chosen to be the reborn priestess of the ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth. Taken from her family and roots she is raised and thought that she is nothing and nobody but the voice and representative of the powers she worships. The first part of the story goes over her young years as she live in the temple and what her life is. Similar to A Wizard of Earthsea, this book also spends a lot of time over her growth and the world around her – describing her thoughts, the rituals she needs to perform and building Le Guin‘s fantasy world piece by piece. It is truly amazing how everything just comes to live in front of your eyes which would explain why I was able to sprint through this book in just a few hours.
True, there were some slow chapters where you just read about the girls’ chores, their uneventful lives and routine but I realize this made it just more real to me. I could feel the dry summer heat as they went to get water by the stream; I could feel the cold, chilly evenings in the winter. I could literally imagine the temples and the labyrinth beneath them.
In The Tombs of Atuan we get something that we lacked a bit in the previous book – there are more characters, more natural interactions and frictions between them. We have Tenar on one side, and then the priestesses of the other temples, the girls serving in the temples and even Tenar’s eunuch guard. In The Wizard Ged spent more times with his thoughts or alone and that was kind of boring eventually. While Tenar spends a lot of time asking questions, learning and going around exploring her ‘domain’ – the tombs of the unnamed ones that she serves.
In a way Tenar is very simple and narrow-minded because all she knows of the world is what she has been taught from a very young age. And when she later meets Ged (who is much more likable in this book) she is overwhelmed by his knowledge of the world, by his difference from everything she knows about his people, the magicians, and the seeds of doubt sink their roots deeper in her mind.
There is more action in this book, more secrets to be uncovered and more unexpected turns. But what I have realized is that Ursula Le Guin‘s books are not of the epic fantasy kind like Lord of Rings; rather, they use the subtle magic of this unimaginable world, of the curious workings of the mind, of themes like freedom, responsibility and honor. It is just… magical.
I also noticed that the author again switches to third omniscient point of view from time to time but it doesn’t happen as often as the previous book. So that is another great improvement in my book.
I’ll give The Tombs of Atuan solid 4/5 rating. I really enjoyed it and I enjoy that I have no idea what will happen next. Every book has a tight, neat ending and they can pretty much be read as standalone which is super hard to do. But they are inadvertently connected and if you want to get the full experience you better start from The Wizard of Earthsea.
What about you? What rating would you give? What are your thoughts and takes on The Tombs of Atuan?