Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Voices is the second book in Le Guin's Tales of the Western Shore trilogy. I read it because the third book, Powers, won the 2008 Nebula. I'm also reading it because Le Guin is a fantastic writer. If I counted correctly, Le Guin has won the most Nebulas for Best Novel with 4 -- nobody else has won more than 2. Even more impressively, her wins were in four different decades. I wouldn't put it past her to add a 5th in the coming years. She's also won a National Book Award and a Newberry Medal.
I had been avoiding reading fiction recently, except on travel, because, you know, babies. But I find it important to read a little before bed to unwind. I figure that since I can renew books twice, nine weeks is more than enough time to finish a novel. What I didn't count on is the compelling nature of Le Guin's writing. I planned on reading a chapter at a time, but sometimes I got so absorbed that I went through 2 or 3 chapters, robbing me of precious sleep. (Of course, sometimes my eyes drooped after a few pages, and I couldn't get through the chapter.)
Voices is less of a sequel to Gifts than a companion, set about twenty years later in the same general setting. The two main characters from Gifts appear in important, but not leading, roles. It tells the tale of a young woman in land under foreign occupation. She is from a prominent family, but a branch of it who have ended up as servants. Nobody in this land is doing particularly well due to the occupation (she is in fact the daughter of a soldier who raped her now-deceased mother). The book chronicles the awakening of her somewhat-vague magical powers and the struggle of her people to free themselves.
It was interesting reading this book while, in the real world, protests shook the Egyptian dictatorship. I don't want to be too glib in drawing parallels -- in particular, Egypt is not under foreign occupation. But there was a certain resonance that made Voices more exciting to read in this context.
My county library continues their practice of shelving much science fiction in the "young adult" section. It used to bother me more to have to go there to retrieve what I consider quite-sophisticated fiction. Perhaps parenthood has softened my perspective, though -- if it means that well-written books with mature themes are more accessible to kids, maybe it isn't so bad.
In the end, I gave Voices 4/5 stars rather than 5/5 because I found it compelling, but not gripping. Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but while it was very enjoyable and thought-provoking at the time of reading, I don't see this as a book I'll be mulling over in the months or years to come.
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