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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Austere, Monolithic Fantasy Lacking Narrative Development

Gifts - Ursula K. Le Guin

It's a long time since Ursula Le Guin produced a book for young people so I was looking forward to reading this new novel from the author of the Earthsea trilogy. Unfortunately, despite lavish praise from critics, Gifts sorely disappointed me. I've seen it described as a 'compelling' tale but it's anything but. It's an austere story, monolithic in structure (there's absolutely no sub-plot) about a boy growing up in a community whose leaders possess strange, fierce gifts like his father's power to 'unmake' i.e. destroy any thing or person with a glance. Orrec is expected to inherit the gift but it seems, at first, that his power is uncontrollable and for years he is condemned to wear a blindfold.


The trouble with the story, for me, is that nothing really happens. Le Guin creates ideas but then declines to develop them. There's no real narrative development. When I got to the end, I thought, 'Is that it?'. Any critic who thinks that this will go down well with young people hasn't met enough of them.