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The Tombs of Atuan

(Earthsea Cycle #2)

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  105,133 ratings  ·  4,410 reviews
Librarian's Note: For an alternate cover edition of the same ISBN, click here.

When young Tenar is chosen as high priestess to the ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth, everything is taken away - home, family, possessions, even her name. For she is now Arha, the Eaten One, guardian of the ominous Tombs of Atuan.

While she is learning her way through the dark labyrinth,
Mass Market Paperback, 180 pages
Published September 1st 2001 by Gallery / Saga Press (first published 1970)
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winona I think a lot of the answers here don't give satisfying answers to your question. I've just finished the "The Tombs of Atuan", but I know how Ged's an…moreI think a lot of the answers here don't give satisfying answers to your question. I've just finished the "The Tombs of Atuan", but I know how Ged's and Tenar's story continues from spoiling myself on Wikipedia lol.

Short answer: yes, this is a love story between Tenar/Arha and Ged, but not in the traditional sense.

Long answer: first and foremost, "The Tombs of Atuan" is a Bildungsroman - so it has many themes associated with coming-of-age. The main themes are identity, redemption, trust, and defying a false destiny. One of the minor themes is love. Tenar experiences many different conflicting, confusing and distressing emotions and revelations when Ged comes into her lives, and the combined feelings of resentment and love are some of them.

The love story is definitely there - it's just that Tenar, having very little exposure to a world that isn't consumed by religious fanaticism, doesn't understand what she's feeling (very easy to infer from the later chapters). Also, she's 15.

We don't get to see things from Ged's perspective, but it's pretty obvious that he cares for her deeply, but at that moment the reader is unsure if he returns her feelings.

The book might not be an orthodox love story, but it's definitely the beginning of one.
Aliquid A No, not at all. As long as you read both, it doesn't really matter which order you read them in.…moreNo, not at all. As long as you read both, it doesn't really matter which order you read them in.(less)

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Half way through reading The Tombs of Atuan, I was sitting downstairs playing my xBox late at night when I heard voices drifting down from upstairs. I sat and listened to the door muffled murmurs of Miloš & Brontë, but I couldn't make out what they were saying.

Usually I'd just call up to them and tell them it was time to shoosh and go to sleep, but I was curious to figure out what they were talking about. Even obscured I could tell it wasn't the usual joke fest or scary story, there was somethi
Ahmad Sharabiani
The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Cycle, #2), Ursula K. Le Guin

The Tombs of Atuan is a fantasy novel by the American author Ursula K. Le Guin, first published in the Winter 1970 issue of Worlds of Fantasy, and published as a book by Atheneum Books in 1971.

It is the second book in the Earthsea series after A Wizard of Earthsea (1969).

The Tombs of Atuan follows the story of Tenar, a young girl born in the Kargish empire, who is taken while still a child to be the high priestess to the "Nameless O
Sean Barrs
The first few chapters of this were a real chore. They were confusing and dull. However, out of the darkness of those chapters, and out of the depths of the labyrinth, came a story of redemption, human suffering and a will, a will to overcome great evil when succumbing to the darkness would have been a much easier path to walk.

“You must make a choice. Either you must leave me, lock the door, go up to your alters and give me to your masters; then go to the Princess Kossil and make your peace wit
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1970s, fantasy, reviewed
2/19/21 - I'm editing my review. It may seem odd to edit a review for a book I read over two years ago without a reread, but I've noticed whenever I talk fantasy with my friends, I use this book as an example of perfect world building. It's one of those rare novels that the more I think about it the more perfect it becomes. I have no strong desire to revisit the first or third book, but this one may actually go on my favorites shelf.

If you read my review of the previous novel, A Wizard of
Bionic Jean
The Tombs of Atuan by the American author Ursula K. Le Guin, was originally published in 1971. It is the second book in her “Earthsea” series of fantasy books, which began with “A Wizard of Earthsea” in 1969. Yet The Tombs of Atuan has never achieved the same popularity as its predecessor, and is often thought a lesser novel. I read each of“The Earthsea Trilogy” in turn, shortly after their first publication, but could remember little about The Tombs of Atuan now. How glad I am that I have come ...more
Sep 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
When I first tried reading this in my teens I could not manage to go beyond 50 pages because I wanted Ged (AKA Sparrowhawk), the hero of the previous volume A Wizard of Earthsea, to show up and follow him on new adventures. What I found instead was a story of an entirely new protagonist, a young girl called Tenar who lives an oppressive life on the island of Atuan. Young fool that I was, I did not read on to the middle of the book where Ged does show up for more adventures though this time as th ...more
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Alone, no one wins freedom."
- The Tombs of Atuan


I adore Le Guin's voice and her soul. I hate fantasy. Or, rather, I have told that to SO many people I believe it is true. But, I make exceptions. Le Guin could have writen self-help and business books and I'd gladly read them. She was a feminist, but unafraid to write a book both with a female lead, and a female lead who is helped by a man/wizard. She is interested in power, in evil, in humanity, in big questions and nuanced answers. Her prose
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a very fine fantasy. I say fine because it evokes many great labyrinthian images, old, old traditions of sacrifice to the Dark Old Ones, and eventually, freedom from the same.

There's a lot of beauty here, and while I didn't love it on quite the same scale as Ged's original journey in the first book, it's mainly because I liked the core theme better.

Other readers will absolutely take out of this book different layers. I can say that confidently because there are some really beautiful and
Aydan Aliyeva
Feb 22, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This is the second book in Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea series and once again here I am regretting to read it this much late in my late twenties. I should have done it ten years earlier, however better late than never. I like how her stories mingle facts with fiction or let's say intellect with imagination. She chooses deep topics, but talks about in very simple and gentle ways. And I guess, unlike the first one, this book is more focused on female transformation. Now it is not much about Ged, b ...more
Oct 04, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As the previous book, there is a classic fantasy without classical fantasy tropes. Characters must defeat the darkness, but its their own inner demons and fears not some 'Dark Lord'. Nice writing style and world-building, intriguing plot and interesting characters, but just not my type of read. ...more
Martyn Stanley
Oct 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: great-read, good-book
When I reviewed 'The Wizard of Earthsea' I gave it four out out of five:-

Having read 'Tombs of Atuan' I feel like I was overgenerous. Maybe WoE was a 3.5 rounded up?

The bottom line is, I REALLY enjoyed 'Tombs of Atuan'. When I got to the point where Ged entered the story, I could hardly put it down. It's a gripping book, set in a grim and fascinating setting. It reeks of the mystery of ancient places. The whole book takes place in the sort of setting most
Nov 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
This always used to be my favourite of the series, both for sheer atmosphere and because it featured a female-centred world, in complete contrast to the first book. It’s almost the opposite, in that way: Ged isn’t the POV character anymore, and instead we follow Arha/Tenar, seeing her experience in a different land, seeing Ged as an outsider. That latter is especially fun, because though he talks about not learning Ogion’s lessons, it seems that he really has. And there was always an attraction ...more
May 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, kindle, fiction
Le Guin fascinates me again! This is another highly intelligent and well-thought-out fantasy story. I loved that in this sequel, Ged wasn't the only main character and that we are introduced to Tenar, a very well developed female character. The story starts with a young girl named Tenar, with given name Arha, and she is separated at a young age from her parents to become a High priestess in the temple of the Unnamed ones. So this is not just story about young wizard Ged, it is mostly about Tenar ...more
Jul 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, favourites
Much as I love A Wizard of Earthsea, there isn't much feminine about it. It's a male society, it seems in that book, shaped by men and only inhabited by women. I don't know how much thought Le Guin put into that, originally, but the women in the story don't really have much of a place. There's the witch and Serret and the Kargish woman and Yarrow... but they don't have great parts in Ged's life. He's taken away from the tutelage of the witch because only a man can teach him wizardry, and there's ...more
Althea Ann
Jul 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite books of all time - I've probably read this one over two dozen times.
It's a deceptively simple story, simple in the way that all truths are simple, allegorical in that it can be applied to all of our lives. it's a story of growing up, of claiming freedom and independence, and all the fear and pain and joy that can accompany that. But it's also just the story of Tenar, called Arha, priestess of the Nameless Ones and mistress of the Undertomb - a girl who believes herself hard,
May 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bechdel-pass
To me the most beautiful and striking aspect of this haunting and haunted novel is the hesitantly built and fragile trust between Ged and Tenar. Without this trust, without each other’s help, neither of them could get anywhere, could even survive. In her retrospective afterword, Le Guin writes that at the time she wrote the novel she could not imagine a woman being truly independent, and her resolution emphasises interdependence between men and women. She makes the gendered interpretation of thi ...more
Aug 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
I've read the first three Earthsea books a heap of times, starting when I was at my academic peak (i.e. in primary school). Through-out my childhood readings I preferred the two that sandwiched this one. Looking back it is easy for me to see why: it wasn't about Ged and it didn't have enough sailing about to far flung places (i.e. exploration) in it. In contrast, I have observed that a number of female Goodreaders who are also LeGuin fans, rate this higher than the other two. I can take a guess ...more
RJ - Slayer of Trolls
What she had begun to learn was the weight of liberty. Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward towards the light; but the laden traveler may never reach the end of it.

The second book in Ursula Le Guin's venerated Earthsea series follows the story of young Tamar, who is taken from her parents at a young age and raised to be the High Priestess t
Mar 01, 2014 rated it liked it
And at the year's end she is taken to the Hall of the Throne and he name is given back to those who are her Masters, the Nameless Ones: for she is the nameless one, the Priestess Ever Reborn.

Tenar is selected as a young child as the Priestess Reborn and taken from her family at the young age of 5 to become the guardian of the Tombs of Atuan. However, one day while walking the labyrinth of her domain, she comes across a young wizard, Sparrowhawk, searching for the treasure hidden there, the Ring
Feb 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reread, for the first time in a long while. When I was thirteen I appreciated this book but I didn't like it as much as Wizard and Farthest Shore—there's less magic, less incident, and a lot more slow creeping dread. On this reread the dread itself became magical. And much as I love Ged, Tenar feels more... like she exists from the marrow out. I have a theory about this, but it's more of an essay-length theory than a Goodreads capsule review theory. In short, brilliant and deep. ...more
Zitong Ren
Dec 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this a fair bit more than book 1, A Wizard of Earthsea. It is still a four star and not quite a five, but in my opinion, I enjoyed this book a lot more. I do think this is because the story in this novel is centred on one thing instead lots of smaller things and side quests before leading up to the final event as seen in book 1. This book just had a more concise plot and that the book knew better on what it wanted to tell and achieve beyond Ged’s growing up story seen in book 1. Becau ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
I read A Wizard of Earthsea more than a decade ago, and admired the writing and anthropologically-informed worldbuilding, while not feeling any personal resonance with the story or characters. Returning to Earthsea much later, with a different book and with more maturity as a reader, was far more rewarding, though I have some doubts that are perhaps more in the vein of literary criticism than typical review material (and concentrated around the end, so will be discussed beneath the spoiler alert ...more
Feb 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
I think The Tombs of Atuan has always been my favourite of the Earthsea cycle. I said to someone recently that the quiet moment where Tenar watches Ged sleeping, and there's a thistle by his hand, and the world just seems so strange, was somehow a moment that perfectly defines Le Guin's work for me. That quietness, that moment of clarity, of seeing-things-anew...

If nothing else, that's the feeling I get when I read her work.

The Tombs of Atuan begins to redress the balance of the world Le Guin cr
Gavin Hetherington
I just think I'm not gelling with this series unfortunately. It did pick up at the end of chapter 9, but this failed to hold my interest the entire way through. ...more
Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)
This is the second book in the Earthsea Cycle. Plot-wise it's not as good as A Wizard of Earthsea, but the writing is better. It has such wonderful fluidity that I read the entire book in just a few hours. For that I can give it four stars, though the story lacks the magic and adventure of the first book.

Tenar is taken from her family at the age of five and given to "the Dark Ones" (aka "the Nameless Ones") at the age of six. The belief is that they eat her soul, and thereafter she belongs to t
Paul Weiss
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: young-adult, fantasy
“When Tenar is chosen as high priestess … everything is taken from her.”

Ms LeGuin might think my interpretation of THE TOMBS OF ATUAN, the second entry in her now long-running EARTHSEA fantasy series, to be far wide of her intended mark. And other readers may well have different opinions and disagree with me completely. Be that as it may, I saw THE TOMBS OF ATUAN as a scathing allegorical critique of the evils of organized religion; the self-perpetuating nature of the patriarchy that created
Jul 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
In reality, this book should have bored me. The vast bulk of the story is told in a very limited worldview, underground in a cave. The slave girl whose point-of-view the reader follows is an unreliable narrator.

But somehow, Ursula Le Guin's writing voice just captivates me. She's has a rich voice, similar to Tolkien and Lewis. She believes in her worlds so much that they spring into reality while you read. Her style is beautiful.

I was surprised that she used an entirely different character's P
Kara Babcock
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Karl Jorgenson
Dec 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
Le Guin continues her world of Earthsea, though beginning with a new character, a new and different kingdom, new geography, new powerful, lurking evil, and a new adventure, all tied together by the arrival of Sparrowhawk, the wizard from the first book. As always, Le Guin's world-building is overwhelming, so detailed and real I could sit and talk about the scenes as though I had visited. ...more
Jade Ratley
Jun 23, 2020 rated it liked it
I feel like I enjoyed this one more than the first book, but according to CAWPILE it scored less, so perhaps I am looking back on the first book poorly.

I think these books are quite difficult to explain and talk about, it was an interesting story, and I felt for our main character here, but I was overall not very invested in the story at all, and didn't find myself caring too much about what happened. The worship aspect of this was intriguing, and having it deconstructed was fascinating but I w
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Ursula K. Le Guin published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl, and The Wild Girls. She lived in Portland, Orego ...more

Other books in the series

Earthsea Cycle (6 books)
  • A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)
  • The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Cycle, #3)
  • Tehanu (Earthsea Cycle, #4)
  • Tales from Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #5)
  • The Other Wind (Earthsea Cycle, #6)

Articles featuring this book

If you love the fantasy genre, this is the season for you! Some of the biggest books out this fall promise to be epics full of magic, adventure,...
206 likes · 51 comments
“Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward towards the light; but the laden traveler may never reach the end of it.” 456 likes
“They have nothing to give. They have no power of making. All their power is to darken and destroy. They cannot leave this place; they are this place; and it should be left to them. They should not be denied nor forgotten, but neither should they be worshiped. The Earth is beautiful, and bright, and kindly, but that is not all. The Earth is also terrible, and dark, and cruel. The rabbit shrieks dying in the green meadows. The mountains clench their great hands full of hidden fire. There are sharks in the sea, and there is cruelty in men’s eyes. And where men worship these things and abase themselves before them, there evil breeds; there places are made in the world where darkness gathers, places given over wholly to the Ones whom we call Nameless, the ancient and holy Powers of the Earth before the Light, the powers of the dark, of ruin, of madness… I think they drove your priestess Kossil mad a long time ago; I think she has prowled these caverns as she prowls the labyrinth of her own self, and now she cannot see the daylight any more. She tells you that the Nameless Ones are dead; only a lost soul, lost to truth, could believe that. They exist. But they are not your Masters. They never were. You are free, Tenar. You were taught to be a slave, but you have broken free.” 90 likes
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