I can vividly remember being disappointed in this book the first time around. A far cry from the island hopping adventures that Ged undertook in A Wizard of Earthsea, the events in this book are all focused in one location, a temple complex dedicated to the Nameless Ones.
Ged is not the main character in this sequel either, though he is the main focal point of the story. This adventure is seen through the eyes of Tenar, a young priestess whose life has been taken into servitude for the Nameless Ones, some old and evil Gods.
Tenar discovers Ged in the eponymous Tombs of Atuan beneath her temple, attempting to steal back half of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, and the story is that of her and Ged interacting.
It is worth noting a beautifully prescient link that Le Guin throws into the first book, a seemingly throwaway scene in his previous adventure that delivers the entire motive for Ged being in the Tombs at this point. It is certainly telegraphed in A Wizard of Earthsea, but I fancy that it is easy to overlook if you are unfamiliar with the story or even the name of the sequel.
To my surprise I found this much more enjoyable than the first in the series. As the action is all focused on the one location, the time is taken to build the characters and the focus is more on their interaction and growth than on dramatic action scenes.
In my opinion it was also an excellent choice to move away from Ged as the protagonist as it allows the readers to view him through another’s eyes. With the prior knowledge of his inner thoughts we already understand what he is like as a person, and get the wonderful opportunity to see Tenar work through her fear, mistrust and fascination of this strange and alien figure that appears in her life.
Once again, the overriding theme of the book is that of a struggle against darkness. Whereas in the first book the darkness came from within, manifesting itself as an outer evil, this time around the evil is from without but infiltrates into the very soul of Tenar. The struggle is that of resisting outer evil that attempts to corrupt us.
I cannot help but rate this more highly than A Wizard of Earthsea. This sequel is also not as I remember, but it has surprised me in a different way by being, far from the boring dry tale I recall, a quieter and more introspective look at the world of Earthsea.
I’m now thoroughly looking forward to the third book in the trilogy (of which there are now five) as I can barely remember it at all and may be able to review it without being clouded by the nostalgia of my formative reading years.
Reviewed by PD Richmond
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