Sunday, July 03, 2011

Nebula Update: Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin

Powers (Annals of the Western Shore, #3)Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Powers won the 2008 Nebula for Best Novel, so I read it as part of my project to read all of the Nebula novels. That puts me at 32 out of 46, including all of the ones 1992-2009. Earlier this year, the novels Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis won the 2010 award. I started reading Blackout last year, but my increasingly hectic life got in the way of finishing it before it was due back to the library. I'm going to try the Kindle route with George RR Martin's new Song of Ice and Fire book later this month; if that goes well, maybe I'll do the same for the Willis books.

But back to Powers. It's the third book in the Annals of the Western Shore trilogy. I really enjoyed the first two (I don't believe in taking shortcuts into series). Powers is in many ways classic Le Guin -- deep themes (the role of women in society, the need to fight against injustice) set in a science fiction, or (in this case) fantasy setting. The fantasy, however, in this book is pretty weak stew, however. The protagonist's "powers" are more something he runs from than anything else (in contrast to the first two books, where the magic looms larger). Mainly what makes this feel like fantasy is the non-Earth, vaguely medieval setting. I liked this as a book, but I'm disappointed it won the Nebula, since it doesn't really feel like fantasy. (I felt similarly about "The City & The City", which was nominated for, but did not win, the 2009 award.) So it ends up getting 4/5 stars. A heavier fantasy element would probably have pushed it to 5.

Once again, I find the county insistence on shelving these books in "Young Adult" to be puzzling. The book contains references to rape and child murder. These themes are treated with the appropriate gravity, and perhaps high school is a good time to learn how awful the world can be, but I think it's a weird label to place on very sophisticated books (that I would still recommend to a bright teenager).

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