Post number forty-six is for Ursula K. Le Guin’s Voices, a required reading assignment for my Fantasy Lit course. I have never read a Le Guin book before, and this one initially made me leary because it’s written in first-person, and the only series of books that I’ve really enjoyed that were written in first-person are the Percy Jackson books, mostly because Percy Jackson is so incredibly witty and funny. But this one was pretty good – not great, but I enjoyed it.
Brief thoughts follow, including some minor spoilers.
The main character – and the person whose pov we are reading – is Memer, a somewhat servant in a house called Galdamand in a city-state called Ansul. The city was taken over seventeen years prior by the Ahls, and the Lord of the house (called the Waylord), was imprisoned for a year before being released. He is lame, as the Ahls’ tortured him for information about a certain “Dark Spot” (i.e. place where the “demons” dwelled), which doesn’t actually exist. The Ahls are terrified of books and writing – they think it’s the demon’s work and is sacriligeous – so they have forbidden the people from owning books, and those that do – and are discovered – are killed and the books destroyed. Galdamand used to house the university library, and was also called the House of the Oracle, so that’s why the focus for this “Dark Spot” was on this particular house and its inhabitants.
Memer is what’s called a “siege brat”; her mother was raped by an Ahl soldier, and became pregnant. Memer has access to a secret room in the house which is used by the Waylord to hide books that people of Ansul have brought him to save, and also houses some books from the olden days full of stories and the histories of Ansul and the surrounding lands. The Waylord teaches Memer to read them; the book is really a whole thing about how ignorance leads to prejudice and misunderstandings of different cultures, and how reading can help you become more enlightened. It actually reminded me of the poem the school I work at recites each afternoon at the end of the day, which we call the “Be Poem”. The final two lines are as follows:
Education is the key/ And knowledge has great power
Mixed in with this book are some interesting tidbits about “gifts” that some of the characters have, one of which is a man who can hold a crowd captive with his stories and songs, and his wife, who can speak to animals. Memer also has a gift, which I won’t give away, but suffice it to say that I can see her becoming extremely important in this city-state’s future. Also, because it’s inevitable when talking about a world that’s being controlled by an outside presence (in this case, the Ahls), there’s a bit of revolution thrown about, although it was all done in a fairly controlled way.
I liked Memer because she seemed really “real” to me, but at the same time, the plot took a bit of time to develop, and I think the whole idea of the gifts of the people is confusing because I hadn’t read the first book in this series which introduces those two characters. So much of the book was about Memer’s time in the secret room, and while it was definitely important, it did tend to move a bit slowly in places. But I still enjoyed it, even though it ended in a rather open way, with many things left for the reader to guess about.