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The Other Wind Paperback – January 7, 2003
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Alder seeks advice from Ged, once Archmage. Ged tells him to go to Tenar, Tehanu, and the young king at Havnor. They are joined by amber-eyed Irian, a fierce dragon able to assume the shape of a woman.
The threat can be confronted only in the Immanent Grove on Roke, the holiest place in the world and there the king, hero, sage, wizard, and dragon make a last stand.
Le Guin combines her magical fantasy with a profoundly human, earthly, humble touch.
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The book did start out great. With some more editorial guidance, something really great could have been achieved.
Alder, a sorcerer whose skill is mending, is deeply troubled by dreams of the dead. Nightmares about his newly lost wife and others struggling to be free. These dreams drive him to the wizards at Roke, who in turn send Alder on to Ged, once the Archmage of Earthsea, now powerless, but happy. Ged recognizes that Alder's dreams are the truth, that something momentous is happening at the wall which borders the dry kingdom of the dead. He sends Alder on to Havnor from where Lebannen rules the kingdom.
Lebannen is deeply troubled by Alder's report. Nor is that his only problem. Seserakh, daughter of the Kargish king has been offered to him for wife, and Lebannen resents this manipulation. In addition dragons at the edge of his kingdom are beginning to terrorize and attack the populace, breaking a longstanding truce. Nor is he happy that Tenar, Ged's wife, has taken Seserakh's side. Tehanu, adopted by Ged and Tenar, badly disfigured by fire as a child, is his only link to the dragons. Kalessin, the eldest dragon has recognized her as his daughter.
When Lebannen, Tehanu, and Onyx of Roke confront the dragons about their actions they discover little, and much. The dragons agree to a temporary truce, and bronze Irian, another of Kalessin's children, consents to come to Havnor to parley. There in the councils of Havnor Irian tells the dragons' story and the forgotten legends of many of the Earthsea folk are recalled. In some fashion, the human quest for eternal life has broken both the agreement between dragon and human and the heart of the world. All must go to Roke to find the answer in the immanent grove and heal the damage.
For a thin book, 'The Other Wind' has an incredible richness of themes. Life after death, sacrifice, courage, the varieties of love, redemption, and many others weave together time and again. There are no villains in this story, where much of the action takes place in the heart and the mind. Nor is there violence. Just questions, and answers, and questions again. Le Guin has an almost zen-like ability to use just enough writing to serve her purpose, and trusts us to fill in the rest ourselves. She has also made me homesick for the first tales in this series, to be once again beguiled by dragons and wizards.
Ged and Arren returned out of the Dry Land, but left behind those who were neither alive nor truly dead.
Who were those shadows of the living? Why were they condemned to lead such miserable half-lives, in which Arren "saw the mother and child who had died together, and they were in the dark land together; but the child did not run, nor did it cry, and the mother did not hold it or ever look at it. And those who had died for love passed each other in the streets."
"The Other Wind" debates the riddle of a 'true' death, and reveals how the very existence of the Dry Land threatens the people of Earthsea.
Actually there is more debate than action in this latest Le Guin fantasy, but as always she delivers her message through her complex and likeable characters. There lives the true magic in this series.
The reader is first introduced to the plight of the undead through Alder, a recent widower who can magically mend crockery and other mundane items. In a dream, his deceased wife kisses him over the low stone wall that separates the living world from the Dry Land. Subsequent dreams reveal other undead, who beg him to release them from the dark and return them to the land of the living.
Alder flees to the Island of Gont, to seek help from the former Archmage. But old Ged used up all of his magic while defeating the Dry Land mage (in "The Farthest Shore") and he counsels Alder to ask for assistance from the new King.
At the royal residence on Havnor, Alder meets many characters from previous Earthsea stories: Ged's wife, Tenar who was formerly priestess of the Tombs of Atuan; the burned child, Tehanu who can summon dragons; the dragon, Irien who assumes the shape of a woman; and Arren, the young King himself, companion to Ged on his fateful journey to the Dry Land.
King Arren (who now uses his true name, Lebannen) has problems of his own, including rampaging dragons and a heavily veiled princess, foisted off on him by a former enemy who orders the King to marry her. Nevertheless he agrees to help Arren, the sorcerous pot-mender who seems to have acquired the power to destroy the balance between Earthsea's underworld and its realm of the living.
The climax to "The Other Wind" takes place on Roke, the island of Mages, where the author ties all of her loose plot devices together--EXCEPT for the prophecy regarding 'The Woman of Gont.'
Admittedly the former archmage, Ged offered Alder 'a' solution to the prophecy before the sorcerer left Gont, but it wasn't very satisfying.
My hope is that there is time for at least one more Earthsea fantasy --one where the prophecy first revealed in "Tehanu (volume three)" is fully explained.