Cover art by Mary GrandPre
The beginning and end of this short novel involve a group of humans, who have settled on the distant Earth-like world of Victoria, exploring new territory in search of a place to begin a new settlement. The rest of the book is quite different, and is a study of two human towns and societies in conflict.
In Victoria there are only two places where humans live: the City, which was founded by former Earth criminals many decades ago, and Shantih, a loose community of farmers, founded by another group from Earth that were exiled for political reasons. In brief, they were peace marchers on a grand scale, and the leaders of a movement that swept Earth for a time, but did not overcome Earth’s warlike behavior. Luz is a young woman of the City. Her father is a wealthy and important man there, one of the City Bosses. Luz feels trapped and confined in her home, where her father wants her to marry one of his political allies. She longs for the freedom of Shantih. Lev is a young man in Shantih who many look to for leadership. He is idealistic and charismatic. He holds to the ideals of the peace marchers, and their spiritual leaders like Gandhi and King. The two settlements have long been in partnership, but the City Bosses believe themselves in charge of Shantih as well as their own City. When they begin enforcing that belief, they meet the calm resistance of Lev and many others. Some are taken hostage. Others are forced to labor for the Bosses, until they slip away in the night. Meanwhile, Luz escapes the City and joins her former school friend Lev in Shantih. This precipitates a crisis that will forever change both settlements, and many of the people in them.
Wonderful book, which is no surprise. Le Guin’s understanding of society and human nature is deep, and her skill as a storyteller is strong. And her creative powers are as wonderful as ever, as in the beings native to Victoria known as Wotsits, among others. Highly recommended.