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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leguin's usual mastery of story and style
There are lots of reasons to like a good LeGuin novel--her spare prose, her sharpness of description, her ease of storytelling, but in simple terms, when LeGuin writes well (nearly always), it boils down to the fact that reading becomes bare unadorned pleasure. Pleasure at its purest and simplest. And that is the gift of this newest book.
The backstory is pretty...
Published on May 5, 2005 by B. Capossere

versus
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great world building and characters, weak plot
When I finished this book, I had mixed feelings. The first few chapters had a realistic feel, as if you are sitting next to Orrec, listening to him recount a pivotal moment in his life. It read almost like a transcript of someone recounting his life.

Yet that realism worked against the book. Orrec's narration in those first few chapters feel random,...
Published on July 18, 2006 by Guacamole lover


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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leguin's usual mastery of story and style, May 5, 2005
This review is from: Gifts (Hardcover)
There are lots of reasons to like a good LeGuin novel--her spare prose, her sharpness of description, her ease of storytelling, but in simple terms, when LeGuin writes well (nearly always), it boils down to the fact that reading becomes bare unadorned pleasure. Pleasure at its purest and simplest. And that is the gift of this newest book.
The backstory is pretty simple--families living in the Uplands have hereditary magical abilities or "gifts" (one type to a family) that can and usually are employed to harm: gifts of "unmaking" (killing/destroying), of "calling" (calling animals--used to call them to be killed), of "twisting" (maiming things and people), of "wasting" (cursing with a slowly fatal illness). The clans feud back and forth over land, cattle, etc. yet must also stay on terms to keep interbreeding as the gifts are strongest when bred true through the family. The description of the clans reminded me of old Celtic tales of cattle-thieving etc. Fans of Irish/Scottish old tales of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series might see some similarities).
Into this world come two youths raised as friends since childhood. Orrec's family has the gift of unmaking (using the eyes and hands) and there is a lot of pressure on him early when his gift takes its time to manifest itself, possibly because his mother is an ungifted "lowlander" who left the lowlands to wed his father after a raid. When his gift does appear, it seems to be "wild", uncontrollable and a danger to those around him. At his own urging, Orrec is blindfolded to protect those he loves. Along with its personal impact, this also has larger ripples: on his budding romance with his childhood friend Gry, on his relationship with his mother and father, on his family's relationship with a bordering family whose aggressively greedy leader, Ogge Drum, threatens both Gry and Orrec's homes.
Gry, meanwhile, who has the talent to call animals, has decided she has no desire to do so if it simply leads to their death. She refuses to join the hunts and calls into question the whole underlying theory and application of the gifts.
This is a slim story, yet works on many levels. The simple plot is effectively suspenseful and well-paced: will Orrec remain blindfolded, will he and Gry marry, will Gry be forced to use her talent, will they withstand Ogge Drum, etc. The deeper stories are even more effective. The relationships between two adolescents and their parents as they try to find their own way, their own identities. The changing relationship between the two of them as they shift from friends to perhaps more, from powerless to powerful, from passive to active, from adolescent to adult. The larger issues of power and restraint. None of these are handled in ham-handed fashion; all of them are subtly and nicely interwoven to add pleasure and complexity.
The style is typical LeGuin. Spare, poetic, vivid. There isn't a word out of place and she makes five words do what most need fifteen for. Some current authors of those bloated epic fantasy tomes could take some lessons here that sometimes less really is more.
Characters are three-dimensional, complex, sharply depicted. And there is an ease to the whole tale that is signature LeGuin, a born storyteller. Her narrator, Orrec, is himself a lover of tales (one of the more tragic effects of his blinding is his loss of the books his mother made him) as well as, he comes to learn, a teller of them.
And finally, the culture itself is clearly laid out (despite not spending three hundred pages on "world-building") in logical, understandable fashion with a true sense of authenticity.
Normally at this point I'd spend at least a few lines on the few minor flaws that were overcome by a book's larger strengths (if I liked the book). But to be honest, I really would have to strain to come up with even some minor flaws. I'm not sure I'd come up with any even then.
Highly, highly recommended. It's the sort of book one wishes there were more of and that more writers, especially in this genre of fantasy (as overarching a genre as that is) would emulate.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good book!!!, January 10, 2005
A Kid's Review
This review is from: Gifts (Hardcover)
I recently finished reading Gifts, and I have to admit it totally took me by surprise. My mom gave me the book, and it looked sort of...weird. But once it gets into the story, it's completely awesome! It's really interesting and complex, and I love how at the end it all comes together. It totally turns around at the end of the book. Gifts is one of the best books I've ever read! I can't even begin to explain how good it is. It should be the law to have to read it :-P
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful fantasy, January 28, 2005
By 
Peter Hentges (Minneapolis, MN USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Gifts (Hardcover)
Le Guin brings us, in this finely-crafted novel, another story that is superficially aimed at younger readers and yet holds great depths for readers of all ages. As with her Earthsea novels, Le Guin layers the story with meaning that a young reader may overlook without losing any enjoyment and that only adds to the reader's enjoyment when he or she is ready for the more complex themes.

Le Guin's anthropological background shines in this story as well. The setting has echoes of Scotland, but the fabric of the fantasy setting is woven so tightly that you never truly see our world through it. The culture the characters live in is fully realized and the actions of the characters within the setting reflect this. These are not modern people in fancy dress, strutting through some generic fantasy world; they live and breath on the pages, acting in ways that are wholly consistant with their imagined background. The result is a novel that is so envoloping that you quickly get lost in it. Read the exerpt here on amazon.com and then curse me, for you will be wanting to turn to the next page at the end of it and will end up paying for overnight shipping just so you can continue the story as soon as possible.

In addition to enjoying the story, I marvelled at the craft of this novel. The way the story is bookended by chapters that bring the story full-circle is beautiful in its elegance. Le Guin's careful revelations through the course of the plot show her mastery of pacing and presentation.

In summary, we are fortunate to have a living master of her art and craft like Le Guin turning out novels of this quality. At a time when fantasy seems to be measured more by bulk than quality, it is refreshing to read a novel in which every word is vital to the story. Take the opportunity to read a story told by someone in the full maturity of their talent and buy this book today.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful, November 2, 2005
This review is from: Gifts (Hardcover)
I finished 'Gifts' in about a day flat. It was wonderful.

I love reading LeGuin because she really understands the human condition and her characters, even in short stories, are always three-dimensional, fully-realized, living, breathing people. Her imagination is overflowing and you can sense the love she's put into imagining all the details of each world she creates, its customs and folkways, religion, language, history, dress; everything is there.

But more than that, where she really shines is in showing us the beauty and pain of our relationships with each other. The small kindness that breaks the heart, the well-meaning betrayal, the yearning to understand another, the void of loneliness, and the quiet strength of the spirit. Everything that is good and true about people, she captures.

I can recommend this to everyone. It's very quiet and slow-moving and understated but it's the stuff of true poetry; beautiful, tragic, but ultimately hopeful.

I also highly recommend her short story 'A Fisherman of the Inland Sea'. It's probably the best love story I've ever read.

A+
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, Poetic, and Thought-Provoking, November 10, 2004
By 
Lawrence E. Wilson (Mayfield, East Sussex, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Gifts (Hardcover)
A young girl with a powerful gift over animals that she chooses not to use. A young man on the verge of manhood, troubled by societal and familial expectations, blindfolded for years to prevent his wild gift from causing disaster. A society that places its focus on riches of the mind rather than those of the pocketbook, where bloodline determines destiny...

Another brilliant, poetic, thought-provoking story from Ms. LeGuin. In her inimitable way, she postulates one small change to accepted reality--in this case, the premise that a remote and inbred population of hunters, herders, and farmers might possess a variety of inheritable psychic gifts that range from the benign to the terrifying--and creates a plausible society, one which has immediate and profound resonance with our own. A classically-structured tale of self-discovery and self-validation from a true master of the genre of speculative fiction.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Piercingly Beautiful Work from a true Master or her art, April 5, 2006
This review is from: Gifts (Annals of the Western Shore) (Paperback)
I was surprised when I saw a recent profile of Le Guin in a newspaper which mentioned that she had begun a new series of books - the first of which is GIFTS. I admire Le Guin so much that I was wary approaching it - not wanting an idol to fall at this stage. There are very few writers of her age who would embark on such a thing and even fewer who could capture and sustain an audience for a fresh series of books. However, my trepidation was unfounded: Le Guin is (as always) an exception - GIFTS is a majestic, troubling and powerful book. It treads completely fresh ground - although there are thematic trheads that tie it particularly to the latter books in the Earthsea sequence: Tehanu and The Other Wind. It is resolutely an adult novel that only comes into the fantasy genre by default. As with all her fiction she sketches in a new world deftly and subtly so that you scarcely notice what it is she has done. She never uses pyrotechnics or familiar genre tricks. She just writes with piercing honesty and simplicity. Over the years I've read the odd review of Le Guin books criticising either her prose style or her politics: flat, dull preaching. To such critics I say "numbskulls" - Le Guin's prose is sparse, yes, but it is stylish. Her politics are visible but they are thought through and measured. She is provocative, but never on a soap box. I hope she is hale and hearty and long-long lived and that GIFTS marks the beginning of a sequence of books as remarkable as Earthsea was - but written by a wise old woman who, I suspects, knows everything important that there is to be known about the human condition.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strong YA novel about two children coming to terms with their ambiguous magical powers, May 15, 2006
By 
Richard R. Horton (Webster Groves, MO United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Gifts (Annals of the Western Shore) (Paperback)
A new novel from SFWA Grandmaster Ursula K. Le Guin is always welcome. Gifts is presented as Ursula K. Le Guin's first Young Adult novel in a long time. I confess I was surprised -- which perhaps merely points up the difficult of defining "YA." One could certainly have argued that The Other Wind (2001) would appeal to YA readers -- if for no other reason than that it is part of her Earthsea sequence. But why quibble? This new book is a novel, a novel certainly suitable for younger readers, and featuring a narrator in his teens, but at the same time a novel that adults will surely enjoy.

Gifts is set in a somewhat vaguely situated fantasy world. The main characters live in the "Uplands," a setting that made me think of the Scottish Highlands. People from the Lowlands know little of the Uplands, save vague stories, regarded as legends, of "witches." And indeed, certain families have special talents, or "gifts," that run fairly true from father to son and mother to daughter. These gifted families are the aristocrats of small, farming-oriented, domains. The gifts seem mostly rather terrifying -- the power to take over another's mind, the power to "undo" something (turn order into Chaos), the power to twist a man's body unnaturally, or to make someone deathly ill. A few gifts are less fearful: calling animals, or moving heavy things. In general the Uplands people seem to be struggling -- diminishing in both numbers and in the power of their gifts.

The narrator, Orrec, is the son of the Brantor of Caspromant. They have the power of undoing -- essentially, killing any living thing by their will. His mother, however, is a Lowlander. His best friend, Gry, is a girl his age, the daughter of two parents with separate gifts. Her mother's gift, and hers, is to call animals. Her mother uses it, as is traditional, to aid in the hunt. But Gry prefers to use it to help train animals such as horses and dogs.

The story is basically of Orrec's growing up, amid his father's conflict with a vile neighboring Brantor. All is complicated by the slowness of Orrec's gift in manifesting. Eventually it seems that he has a "wild gift" -- he cannot control it, and he takes to wearing a blindfold so that he will not accidentally kill something he is is looking at. The resolution depends on answering questions about the morality of revenge, the proper use of dangerous gifts, and what other sorts of gifts a person may have.

Le Guin's prose is, as always, a delight. Her characters are well-realized and people about whom we truly care. Her villains may be a bit too evil for my taste, but ultimately Gifts turns, not on good people vs. evil people, but on each person dealing with their own powers and their own potential for good and evil. I enjoyed this novel very much.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Le Guin at her most compelling, September 15, 2004
This review is from: Gifts (Hardcover)
Gifts is a fascinating book. It's the story of Orrec, who is a member of a family with a powerful and dangerous gift. It is expected that he will inherit the gift, but he is past the age when the gift usually shows itself. The gift is the main tool the family has to protect itself, but Orrec is faced with a difficult choice about whether to use the gift at all.

I felt like I was living Orrec's situation, facing the choices and uncertainty he faced. I think it's really interesting that Le Guin sets up a situation in which the characters are desperate for better communication, but then resists the temptation to resolve things simply by having them suddenly be able to talk about what they need to be able to talk about. And because they can't talk about it, many questions are left unanswered, both in the characters' and the reader's minds. In my opinion, this makes the book more realistic, even though it's fantasy.

Every character in the book seemed real and complex to me - including the dogs and the horses, and I think that's saying something. Le Guin never tells the reader everything - there's no omniscient explanation of the major events and then characters' reactions to them. Instead, she only gives you bits and pieces - the speculations of the characters - and leaves it to the reader to put things together.

There's an emphasis on the value of literature and poetry and storytelling to the cultures in the world Le Guin has created that is a common theme for her, but it's as compelling as ever in Gifts. This book is a serious contender for the Printz award.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spare and Mature, May 5, 2007
By 
C. Stevens (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Gifts (Annals of the Western Shore) (Paperback)
I'm always puzzled by the fact that Le Guin's books are classified as teen or young adult reading...and yet, after 30 years of fantasy reading, I have found few books that offer the subtlety and sophistication that can equal her best work.

I gave this book 4 stars (rather than five) only because I don't think it's her best...but it still far outstrips 90% of the genre. Le Guin writes literature that takes place in fantastic settings...rather than fantasy.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Usually I love an Ursula Le Guin Novel . . ., January 1, 2008
By 
Kat Hooper "Kat at FanLit" (St. Johns, FL, United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Gifts (Annals of the Western Shore) (Paperback)
Usually I love an Ursula Le Guin novel, but I just couldn't get into Gifts. The writing is beautiful, as we expect from Le Guin (therefore 4 stars), but I found this novel too dull for me.

Most of the story is told by Orrec as it happened in the past (a technique I just couldn't appreciate), and he relates several stories that his mother told him. Orrec and his best friend Gry live in a culture where magical gifts are used for destructive purposes and they are pressured by their parents to develop these powers. They refuse, and Orrec even blindfolds himself so he won't be able to destroy anything. This makes for a lovely philosophy, but not much action, and even fewer happy moments. I guess I was in the mood for something else. But, there's a lot of interesting potential in the culture of The Annals of the Western Shore, and I may decide to try the next one.

BTW, I listened to this on audio; it was well done.
-FanLit.net
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Gifts (Annals of the Western Shore)
Gifts (Annals of the Western Shore) by Ursula K. Le Guin (Paperback - April 1, 2006)
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