The reprinting of works by a beloved author is always a difficult matter. Library of America’s volume of Ursula K. Le Guin novels Annals of the Western Shore represents an excellent reprint of some of the later works of one of America’s great fantasists.
The first story in the volume, Gifts, centers around Gry Barre and Orrec Caspro, two young people living in a small struggling region filled with individuals of great power in a more mystical sense. Gry comes from a line that can communicate on some level with animals, and Orrec from a line that can destroy things with a look. It is, indeed, a powerful ability and as a result Orrec’s father spent a great deal of time warning him of potential consequences from an extremely young age.
Our two leads have known each other from birth, and are great friends. It becomes increasingly clear as the text continues that they are in love, and the slightly nonchronological storytelling only makes this all the clearer.
The third story in the collection, Powers, features a young slave named Gavir who has some level of precognative ability. This is explained well enough, and the world feels similar without going out of its way to be impressively so.
He leaves his home and seeks to understand his abilities, resulting in more than one fascinating revelation. That said, it is also a story featuring a suspiciously trusting slave, something that combines with other details of the allegedly good slave owner to lean into certain negative apologist relating to the American Civil War. While the execution is not likely to remind a reader of this, it is noticeable as an odd decision for a work by Ursula K. Le Guin. Most likely she was instead of something simply to show someone as sheltered, learning about the evils of their situation. It’s so this is achieved well enough, it is nearly half the basic elements might raise an eyebrow.
These are stories in which people have unspeakably strong magical abilities, and yet they fall into place as easily as one might in a real world with less supernatural seeming talents.
While setting is the most clear connection between the three stories in this tome, others become,clear swiftly.
The question of power and responsibility is addressed admirably in this story, as well as a question of what exactly a talent might be for. The application of the potentially destructive for peaceful purposes is of import, and the question of duty to ciuntry versus family is hard to ignore.
The volume include a wonderful endpaper maps of the setting, and as with any Library of America release is plump with extra material. Included are interviews with the author, as well as a number of pieces which she wrote relating to young adult Fiction and Fantasy, as well as these books in particular. The ability to get a look into the opinions of these subjects by such a great author is wonderful, and anyone looking for contextual documents for the novels included in this volume gain an excellent starting point. As is so often the case also included are a chronology and a series of textual notes. To anyone doing research in any way related to these books leaves will be invaluable, and will at least prove interesting to anyone who is curious.
Overall this is another out of the park success from the Library of America. Anyone who an aficionado of Ursula K Le Guin will want it, researchers covering the material will find it invaluable, and anyone looking to read at these stories could not pick a better presentation.
(Library of America, 2020)