Oh, Ursula K. Le Guin is fantastic. I hope you know that. She truly is something special. Every book I’ve read by her demonstrates a keen intellect, unique worldview, and unstoppable imagination. What more could you want in an author?
Gifts is the first in the Annals of the Western Shore series. There are 3 of them, but I have no idea if Le Guin plans to write more or not. I truly hope she does, because this world is one that I want to hear more from.
In the Uplands, each clan has what they call a “gift.” The gifts are passed down through the generations, though the gifts can be (and are) diluted over time without sufficient inbreeding. These gifts are generally warlike in nature, either defensive or offensive. Orrec Caspro’s gift allows him to destroy things with his eye, a word, and a gesture. His best friend Gry’s gift allows her to speak with animals, to call them and compel them to behave in certain ways. Orrec and Gry have made each other a pledge to marry when they’re old enough, even though as top kids in their clans it is their duty to marry in a way that will strengthen the giftline.
Gry’s mother uses the animal-calling gift to call prey for hunters. She finds deer or boars or bears or whatever and calls them near the hunt, allowing hunters to be far more successful with far less effort than otherwise. Gry hates using the gift this way, and prefers to train dogs and horses. Orrec’s father spent years trying to train Orrec in use of his gift, with little success. Until finally Orrec’s gift blew up a hill and destroyed everything on it. He is sure he has “a wild eye” and refuses to use it until he has learned to control it – his eyes are blindfolded all the time. Gry sees for him, and he has learned to live in a world of darkness.
Gifts tells Gry and Orrec’s story, including how they decided to turn their backs on the ways their gifts have been used for generations, and the fallout from those decisions. Orrec is a natural story-teller, and he narrates here to explain why and how all this happened. It was really neat.