© Ursula K. Le Guin.
The third book in the Annals of the Western Shore series, the most recent, is every bit as wonderful as the first two, “Gifts” and “Voices,” which I reviewed earlier. This one focuses on a new character, Gavir, a dark-skinned slave boy stolen as an infant from the marsh people, and raised in the well-to-do city home of his master, along with his older sister and many other slaves. Gav is treated well by standards of his time and society, educated, with the intention of training him to be a teacher. He has a photographic and audio perfect memory, which allows him to remember and repeat any poem or text he sees or hears, plus another talent he keeps hidden: prophetic visions of his own future. This element of fantasy, if it is that, is nearly the only one in this rich, almost historical tale, though all the settings and history come from the author’s imagination. Gav’s life as a slave is marred mainly by a few other members of the household who do what they can to torment him, but though not physically strong, he gets by. As he grows older, the jealousy and enmity of those older boys/men takes a turn toward sadism and violence that results in a great tragedy, causing Gav to run away from his master and the city.
Taking refuge in the wild hills with a hermit, Gav begins a wandering journey throughout the surrounding countryside, with a series of groups and companions, trying always to find his place in the world, but never quite succeeding. Even time spent with his natal people proves unsatisfying in the end. And, finally, Gavir must flee from the pursuit of one of his old enemies, searching for him to return him to slavery. Gavir’s flight north into free lands without slavery is full of tension and danger, and all the varied skeins of his life come together at last in this desperate journey.
Gav is a fisherman, and so, I think, is the author. She hooks us early with her usual fine character development and lyric writing, once again making books and learning a central element of the story. Then she gives us and Gav lots of free line to run here and there, trying to escape, to find himself, before gradually winding us in to a tense battle for personal freedom and growth. The final section of the book is particularly joyful, as it joins together characters from all three books in the kind of “wish I could be there, too” ending I haven’t seen in a long time. You don’t have to have read the other two books to enjoy this one, but the final chapters will be much more meaningful if you have.