Martyn Stanley's Reviews > The Tombs of Atuan

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
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it was amazing
bookshelves: great-read, good-book

When I reviewed 'The Wizard of Earthsea' I gave it four out out of five:-

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

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 books brush past, hinting that the ruins are ancient and of another time and telling you nothing more.

Surprisingly, Ged was NOT the protagonist here. It never really switched to Ged's point of view either. This tale is told from the perspective of a young girl called Tenar, who becomes 'Arha' (The Swallowed One) when the old Priestess dies, because she's born on the night the old one died, she is assumed to be the reincarnation.

This situation puts Arha into a unique dichotomy. She essentially grows up in a world where she has enviable privilege, but no freedom. She's well looked after, she's important, but she can never leave the Tombs or forego the rituals demanded of her by the ancient dark that dwells there. She is essentially a well cared for slave. For the most part Arha seems to accept her fate. I can understand why too. I think it's realistic. She leads such a sheltered existence that considering what the world beyond the Tombs may be like never really occurs to her until she meets Ged. In some respects her moral anguish over the fate of the men she left in the chained room reminds a little of my own character Vexis Zaelwarsh, Low Priestess of Avanti who features in Rise of the Archmage. I actually think this book has a very similar theme to Vexis's story in Deathsworn Arc. The exploration of faith and fear... It almost reads like a strange version of Stockholm syndrome. When offered freedom, I don't feel Arha grabs it without fear. This is probably realistic. Most of us DO have a fear of the unknown. A new job, relationship or moving to a new town always brings anxiety, even if it's something we're really excited about. Arha ends up in a position where she's forced to choose between a new life, unknown - or the existence she's lived for her whole life. The way Le Guin portrays it, Ged's kindness and compassion, always offering her the choice of sacrificing him or enslaving him to return to her life as Low Priestess - that seals the deal. The villain in this number, Kossil seems to envy Arha, but I got the impression Kossil had chosen a life serving the Tombs, whereas the life was chosen FOR Arha / Tenar without her having a say in it. This is a crucial difference and though subtle, it gives the whole book context. This book is about the importance of freedom, over privilege.

I particularly liked the rich and emotional exploration of Arha's early life in the Temple. It seemed realistic and intimate. I liked the claustrophobia and darkness of the tombs where no light is ever permitted and explorers have to feel their way in the darkness. I DO think Kossil's decision to light up the Tombs later in the book in order validate Arha's claims really pushed Arha's loyalty towards Ged. For me, it showed a lack of respect for the gods Arha served and a prioritization of control or dominion over Arha, over revering the forces the Tombs belong to.

A truly gratifying part of the book was the ending. It would have been VERY easy to simply set the characters outside the Tomb and waffle off a little 'happily ever after' bit. Le Guin doesn't allow herself the easy way out though. She continues to explore Tenar's feelings as they make their way away and it was good. The portrayal of her emotional turmoil and sense of loss and lostness was excellent.

Another thing I found particularly satisfying was the explanation of the strangers Ged met on the reef in book 1. I hope their story isn't complete. It was great to learn more about them, but the more you learn about them - the harder hitting and sadder their tale becomes. When you dwell on their fate and the lives they must have led up until Ged met them... Their story is truly gut-wrenching.

Of all the people Ged meets on his travels and all those who inhabit the Tombs, I feel the most sympathy for the castaways on the reef. I REALLY hope Le Guin has some kind of redemption in mind for them, but I can't see how she can. Their tragic, sad lives seem to be another reminder of the realness and gritty undertone of Le Guin's story. It isn't in your face grittiness like Game of Thrones, there aren't beheadings, disembowellings, impalings and people being eaten alive and stuff... Le Guin is subtler and applies the grit brush on a more deeply emotional level.

All in all I loved this book and enjoyed it far more than the first one. My only criticism was it could have been longer. I can't mark it down on that because as much as anything it's a testament to how much I was enjoying reading this!

Paperback:- http://amzn.to/2fPKqJ9
Kindle:- http://amzn.to/2wwtP0l

Martyn Stanley
Author of:-
The Last Dragon Slayer (Free to download)
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Reading Progress

October 16, 2016 – Shelved
October 16, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
December 12, 2016 – Started Reading
December 12, 2016 –
page 10
5.56% "Just read the opening chapter about the girl chosen to be priestess? No sign of Ged yet, but really enjoyed the opening!"
January 7, 2017 –
page 14
7.78% "One thing that DOES strike me about this book is the medieval realism of the setting. More so than Wizard of Earthsea, Tombs seems very gritty, but believable. The process of acquiring a new high priestess seems real. I expect to enjoy this more than WoE."
January 9, 2017 –
page 18
10.0% "I really like Arha as a character. Maybe more than Ged? She's interesting and she's real. I like the portrayal of her difficult position as being a young heir to a position of power, where she can get into trouble, but not too much trouble. The other kids she gets up to mischief with get lashed (Ouch!) but of course nobody would dare suggest lashing the new high priestess! Even if she is a kid!"
January 13, 2017 –
page 24
13.33% "Really fascinating start to the story. At this time I have no interest in catching up with Ged, it's all about Arha! The portrayal of the 'chosen one' born at the right time and thrust into her position is really interesting and very really done."
January 18, 2017 –
page 155
86.11% "Well, Ged's made his big entrance. Hmmm, perhaps not such a big entrance. He gets marginally more screen time in this book than Luke Skywalker got in 'The Force Awakens'. I have to say I've enjoyed Arha or Tenar's story much more than Ged's. Having flicked forward to see where the next book starts I realise this is actually quite a short offering. It's largely about temple life, and the dichotomy - slave / priviledge"
January 19, 2017 – Shelved as: great-read
January 19, 2017 – Shelved as: good-book
January 19, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-23 of 23 (23 new)

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Steve Griffin Great review - I read this a long time ago and need to re-read it!


message 2: by Dawn (new)

Dawn Thanks for the recommendation... I've already read it as part of the "Earthsea Quintet!" ;)


Martyn Stanley Which was your favourite book of the series? I really enjoyed this one!


message 5: by Dawn (new)

Dawn It was a long time ago... plus I treated the Quintet as one book - since it was one volume... I can't remember liking any particular book better than another :)


Martyn Stanley Ah okay! Did you like the series?


message 7: by Dawn (new)

Dawn I loved it! I really should read it again, but "So many books, so little time" :(


message 8: by Elisa (new) - added it

Elisa So funny! I just read an article on BookRiot about this series. I'm adding this to my TBR list. Thanks for the recommendation.


Martyn Stanley Elisa wrote: "So funny! I just read an article on BookRiot about this series. I'm adding this to my TBR list. Thanks for the recommendation."

Make sure you read to book 2! The first one was okay, but the second was fantastic. Reminds me a lot of Vexis Zaelwarsh from Deathsworn Arc 4!


Keith I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the rest of the series - the third and fourth ones were perhaps too subtle and introspective for me when I first read them, so I didn't enjoy them as much as the first two, but I've warmed up to them a bit since. The fifth one (which was written comparatively recently) I absolutely loved - it concludes the series really well, explaining and wrapping up things from the earlier books in really satisfying ways. So many fantasy series either conclude with a bit of an anti-climax or cop-out or an outright mess (Bitterbynde Trilogy, I'm looking at you), or just take too long to get to one - not Earthsea.


Martyn Stanley Keith wrote: "I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the rest of the series - the third and fourth ones were perhaps too subtle and introspective for me when I first read them, so I didn't enjoy them as much..."

It's the guys on the reef I want resolving properly... Not sure how you could give them a satisfactory ending without invoking time-travel or some weird dues ex machina or something!


message 12: by Jody (new) - added it

Jody Great review Martyn! Another series going on my TBR list.


Martyn Stanley Jody wrote: "Great review Martyn! Another series going on my TBR list."

Thanks Jody! It's worth reading the first book first, but this was a great book!


message 14: by Patricia (new)

Patricia  Ventola Thanks for the recomendation Martyn !!! Seems like I would like this one


Martyn Stanley Patricia wrote: "Thanks for the recomendation Martyn !!! Seems like I would like this one"

I think so too! I think it's worth reading book 1 first though, even though it's not as enjoyable as this one. (At least to me!)


message 16: by Patricia (new)

Patricia  Ventola Thank you Martyn, you are great !


Martyn Stanley Patricia wrote: "Thank you Martyn, you are great !"

Awww, thanks Patricia! I'm sure I'm not though! :P


message 18: by Patricia (new)

Patricia  Ventola Why?? why do you say that? You are a warm person and that, my friend, it's not so usual. That make a person to be great, for me, because it transcends virtually. LOL.


Martyn Stanley Patricia wrote: "Why?? why do you say that? You are a warm person and that, my friend, it's not so usual. That make a person to be great, for me, because it transcends virtually. LOL."

You really are too kind Patricia! :)


message 20: by Dawn (new)

Dawn Just ordered books 5 & 6 (as Goodreads lists them)... so I'll be re-reading the series this year :)


Martyn Stanley Dawn wrote: "Just ordered books 5 & 6 (as Goodreads lists them)... so I'll be re-reading the series this year :)"

Ooh! I cant wait to see how you get on! You MUST tell me when Tenar makes a return.


message 22: by Dawn (new)

Dawn Martyn wrote: "Ooh! I cant wait to see how you get on! You MUST tell me when Tenar makes a return."

I'll try to remember to tell you LOL


message 23: by Patricia (new)

Patricia  Ventola Martyn wrote: "Patricia wrote: "Why?? why do you say that? You are a warm person and that, my friend, it's not so usual. That make a person to be great, for me, because it transcends virtually. LOL."

You really ..."

Sorry the delay for my answer. But as you know its summer here. Too hot to be at the pc, I spent the day at the pool. LOL.
Have a great week Martyn.


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