Julia G. Darelle's Reviews > Powers

Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin
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Oct 19, 2011

it was ok
Recommended for: writers looking for a good example of why great writing is not everything
Read from October 16 to 17, 2011 , read count: one is more than enough

Well, this was disappointing. I listened to this book on audio CD and the only reason I finished it was that I was stuck at work and wanted something to listen to.

Don't get me wrong. The writing is beautiful, the style is engaging and the character development is beyond reproach. What is my problem then? The book is simply too dull. The main character never does anything, he is just carried from place to place by fate and external forces. And nothing really happens. True, people die, and there are wars and growing rebellion, but it's all just a background to one man (well, young man) journey to nowhere. I was ok with it for a first half of a book but then it became more and more annoying.

Maybe it was also because I kept thinking that she could do so much with all the setup, with all the interesting characters, with these amazing powers that they have. Yet, it's been a journey of lost opportunities and wasted chances.
I have not read the other two books in the series and now I don't think I ever will.

I'd recommend to read this book as a fine example of writing for the sake of writing.
However, fans of U.K. Le Guin might enjoy reading it - as I said, the writing itself is beautiful.

However, this book is supposedly YA and I feel it's worth adding that it's unlikely young readers will find the slow moving plot interesting or the ending satisfying.
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Michael Munns *Spoilers Alert* I agree that this is probably too slow for most teenagers. But I disagree that nothing happened. Part of what is so memorable to me about Le Guin's style is that she spends so much time developing characters and then she'll drop a huge plot twist into a single paragraph. For me, it's like being punched in the face. When Sallo dies, it's unceremonious that it hurts - just a page or two of Gavir worrying and then, suddenly, "I knew she was dead before they called for me." It would have been nice to find out what happened to all the people from Gavir's slave family.


Julia G. Darelle Michael wrote: "just a page or two of Gavir worrying and then, suddenly,"

I think we mostly agree about the book :) I actually did say that the writing is beautiful and character development is beyond reproach. Le Guin has always been a master of language. However, I was simply hoping for something more coming from all the premise. I think the reason for my disappointment was that I expected more of a YA fantasy fiction book and instead it's predominantly a literary fiction disguised as a YA book.
It seemed to me that for the most part of the book the plot developed this way: Gavir gets semi-comfortable somewhere - something happens - Gavir runs away.
Since I was hoping that at some point he would DO something, it became frustrating when that didn't happen over and over again. Plus, the ending was rather unsatisfying. Did you like it? To me it felt as if the whole long book was just a prequel for the next one.

So in the end I gave the book 2 stars, which in my opinion is not bad at all. The book was ok for me, just not as great as I wished it to be.


Michael Munns I felt the opposite about the ending, actually. I felt like the entire scene with Orrec and Gry was tacked on to give an explicit connection between all three books. It seemed to me that the book really ended when they arrived in the city. And that was satisfying to me. But as you alluded to it may a difference in expectation. I knew the series was supposed to be YA but in my experience, a lot of contemporary YA lacks any real beauty in its prose. So I was glad to see beautiful writing. And I am satisfied with rich character studies couched in beautiful prose. I think the books in this series mainly qualify as YA because they have young protagonists. I have taught middle school and high school, but I've never read any Le Guin books I would recommend to any other than my most avid readers. I guess I was hoping to have a YA book that I could recommend and give as an endorsement that I really enjoyed it. I did enjoy it, but I probably wouldn't recommend this or the other two to most of my students. Oh well :)

As to your complaint that Gavir didn't do anything, I can understand that. For me, every page was a further connection into Gavir which isn't only great because his character is so well crafted but, I realize as I'm writing this, is also personally profound for me because I can relate so well to him, having lost my older sister when I was sixteen. Maybe that's the major difference for me. I saw so much of myself in this book that I wasn't bothered by any lack of action. Hmm....


Julia G. Darelle I absolutely agree with you about the sad lack of good prose in contemporary YA lit. There are many books that actually lack even proper editing, despite being published through the major publishers. Some insanely popular authors (James Patterson comes to mind) chose to deliver the story as a never-ending action interspersed with dialogue (often redundant!) when character development if pretty much non-existent. Kids grow up reading this action packed novels and lose patience when it comes to a more developed story.

It's true when it comes to recommending Le Guin's books to students, many of her works are on the other end of the spectrum. Well thought-out, beautifully written, but not as fast, adrenalin-driven as the majority of popular stories. I think in Powers in particular, Le Guin got too deep into a character study and the actual plot became secondary. It read oftentimes, like a writing for the sake of writing, which is fine for literary fiction but not as exciting for science fiction and fantasy.
Books such as Powers might become a more satisfying read when you are older. I know, my son would not finish it now and wouldn't appreciate the prose and character development. However, in ten (maybe twenty, hard to say with boys!) years, I can bet he will enjoy it precisely for its pacing. It's the book you can sit down with and immerse yourself into. It's the book you can probably find multiple quotes from (if you are a quote person, like me). It's just not for majority of contemporary teens, who crave action and are more attracted towards strong main characters. One other book that comes to mind when I think of a very good prose, is "What I Saw and How I Lied" by Judy Blundell. I know it will be recommended to younger people and I can tell that many would not like it. The reason - it's a book about another era and despite being beautifully crafted, it lacks the connection to contemporary teen audience. Plus, as with Powers, there is a lot of promising buildup that is not resolved in a grand enough fashion.

Anyway, speaking of Le Guin's other works, I remember reading her novel "A Wizard of Earthsea" in middle school. It was, I have to add, in translation (in Russian) but I still really liked it (I bet, identifying my own traits in the main character was one of the reasons too!).
Later on, I read all her works that were published in Russia and she has been one of my favourite scifi authors since then.
Alas, it seems working with YA books, reading and writing in YA genre, ruined a pleasure of old-fashioned slow but beautiful storytelling for me :)
In the end, I think the publishers should have marketed it as a scifi book. It would've gotten wider and more accepting audience among the older readers. Though, I'm pretty sure Le Guin has a big fanbase and the label does not deter her readers in this case.


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