The Tombs of Atuan

Dark brown cover of The Tombs of Atuan with a silver ring carved with waves and broken in two.
Cover by Dominic Harman. Click to read an excerpt!

Title: The Tombs of Atuan

Author: Ursula K. LeGuin

Nutshell: Arha is not her name, it is her title. When she was a child, she was dedicated as the priestess to the Nameless Ones, and they ate everything that remained about her but that role. She is their only priestess, the ruler of her very small domain: the tombs of the Nameless Ones, their labyrinth, and their treasure rooms. She commands a handful of servants, acts out her duties during the festivals and sacrifices, and prowls the corridors of the labyrinth. Until the quiet sanctity of her tombs is broken by the most unexpected person: a barbarian sorcerer from across the sea.

Readalikes: It’s been a long time since I read anything in this vein. I cannot recall any titles. Portions of it reminded me of the second Chrestomanci book by Dianna Wynne Jones, but only vaguely.

Ramblings: This felt very different from the Wizard of Earthsea. It didn’t have the poetic tone or the broad scope. Its protagonist was a very different character from Ged.

That was fine, of course. Arha was a little spitfire figuring out the rules of her bizarre world. There were a lot of them, all sort of disjointed, as Traditions get when layered on each other with the meaning forgotten. It was like the religion was an old house and I kept saying, “What idiot thought it would work to put a wall here?” In the tombs, for example, there was a door that lead in, and a different one that led out. Why would you do that?

My favorite part was when Ged arrived. Arha tried to bait him and torment him with all the righteous fury of a young person, and Ged was simply too secure in himself to be baited. It was marvelous to watch.

Thinking back, that’s really all there is to this book. It might be a little slow for some readers, then, since it doesn’t have much complexity. But it’s a slim volume and though it says little, doesn’t use empty words to do it.

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