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3.8 37
by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Scattered among poor, desolate farms, the clans of the Uplands possess gifts. Wondrous gifts: the ability—with a glance, a gesture, a word—to summon animals, bring forth fire, move the land. Fearsome gifts: They can twist a limb, chain a mind, inflict a wasting illness. The Uplanders live in constant fear that one family might unleash its gift


Scattered among poor, desolate farms, the clans of the Uplands possess gifts. Wondrous gifts: the ability—with a glance, a gesture, a word—to summon animals, bring forth fire, move the land. Fearsome gifts: They can twist a limb, chain a mind, inflict a wasting illness. The Uplanders live in constant fear that one family might unleash its gift against another. Two young people, friends since childhood, decide not to use their gifts. One, a girl, refuses to bring animals to their death in the hunt. The other, a boy, wears a blindfold lest his eyes and his anger kill.

In this beautifully crafted story, Ursula K. Le Guin writes of the proud cruelty of power, of how hard it is to grow up, and of how much harder still it is to find, in the world's darkness, gifts of light.

Includes a reader's guide and a sample chapter from the companion title Voices.

Editorial Reviews


"Gifts, in the context of Le Guin's newest, inspire fear more often than gratitude. But this book is a gift in the purest sense, as the renowned fantasist's admirers have waited 14 years since the release of Tehanu for another full-length young adult novel. . . . While intriguing as a coming-of-age allegory, Orrec's story is also rich in the earthy magic and intelligent plot twists that made the Earthsea novels classics." Booklist, 8/01/04 (starred review)

Publishers Weekly
In our Best Books citation, PW wrote, "Le Guin poses probing questions about the power and responsibility of being gifted, through the eyes of a 16-year-old narrator." Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
What a pleasure it is to read a well-crafted story told by a master! In the mountain regions of the land, the clans are insular, making war and an uneasy peace with each other, trusting that their reputations as witches will keep the Lowlanders away. But are they really witches? The reader must decide that for himself. If you were young and curious, and a bit of a troublemaker, you might run away to the mountains to find out. Emmon does just that. Fortunately, he meets two young Uplanders who are just as curious about his land as he is about theirs. They will even tell him a little about themselves, not much, but enough to keep him out of trouble. Because while they are not exactly witches, each family does have what they call Gifts. Gry can call animals, although she refuses to call for the hunters. Orrec must wear a blindfold, at least until his anger can be tamed. His family's Gift is called Unmaking, and he won't demonstrate it for Emmon. In fact he refuses to use it even when his father asks him to. Of course this has lead to a major rift between him and his father. Orrec's mother is, or was, a Lowlander, so she can't interfere in the fight. Orrec feels that everyone is against him—and when his mother develops a "wasting" illness and dies, he doesn't know what to think. Could someone who resents their family's position have used his Gift to cause her illness? We find ourselves really caring about these two teens. A page-turner and highly recommended, especially for fans of LeGuin's earlier work. 2004, Harcourt Children's Books, Ages 12 up.
—Judy Silverman
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2004: In the Uplands, feuding families fight each other using their strange "gifts"?—?the ability to strike someone blind or deaf, to set a fire just by pointing to a spot, or to take a man's will from him and make him do your bidding. Young Orrec's family has a gift known as "the undoing," a means of killing with just a look, a gesture, and a word. At first, Orrec is not even sure that he has inherited this gift, but a dramatic episode convinces him, though it seems that his ability is not fully under his control. He becomes so afraid of his gift that he voluntarily wears a blindfold at all times, so as not to injure anyone accidentally, and accepts the help of a guide dog. His good friend Gry has the gift of communicating with animals, but she refuses to use it to call them to the hunt to be killed. In refusing their gifts the teenagers find other strengths, and Orrec discovers that he has talent as a poet and storyteller, relating the tales his lovely mother told him before she wasted away, cursed by a crude, greedy neighbor who coveted her. After a terrible battle with this neighbor, in which Orrec's father loses his life, Orrec and Gry decide to move away from the Uplands and make a new life, using their positive gifts of storytelling and horse training. Le Guin is a wonderful writer, and this haunting, thought-provoking fantasy has the power of legend. Readers will ponder the nature of gifts and curses, and empathize with Orrec as he struggles to make his way in this strange, vaguely medieval world. KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2004, Harcourt, 286p.,Ages 12 to 18.
—Paula Rohrlick
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-In this well-realized fantasy, the people of the Uplands have unusual and potentially dangerous abilities that can involve the killing or maiming of others. Gry can communicate with animals, but she refuses to use her gift to call creatures to the hunt, a stance her mother doesn't understand. The males in Orrec's line have the power of unmaking-or destroying-other living things. However, because his mother is a Lowlander, there is concern that this ability will not run true to him. When his gift finally manifests itself, it seems to be uncontrollable. His father blindfolds him so that he will not mistakenly hurt someone, and everyone fears him. Meanwhile, Ogge Drum, a greedy and cruel landowner, causes heartache for Orrec and his family. There is a strong sense of foreboding throughout the novel. The characters, who are well rounded and believable, often fail to understand the extent of the responsibility that comes with great power. In the end, Gry and Orrec come to recognize the true nature of their gifts and how best to use them. Readers can enjoy this story as a suspenseful struggle between good and evil, or they can delve deeper and come away with a better understanding of the choices that all individuals must make if they are to realize their full potential. An excellent choice for discussion and contemplation.-Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Uplands are bleak and poor, separated into domains of the great lineages, each one defined by its gift. Gry's family gift is the ability to call animals to the hunt, and Orrec's family gift is the undoing-the ability to dissolve stone, or bone. Orrec tells his story as well as his family's: how his father raided the lowlands for his beloved wife; how Orrec was born, and grew up with Gry, the daughter of his father's best friend; how Orrec's gift never developed normally, but came late, and wild, so his eyes had to be sealed lest he do great harm; how his mother failed, and died. Le Guin spins her tale in her customary way, slowly, and with an ear to the cadences of the sagas. Orrec's journey of self-discovery is, when reduced, the familiar tale of the adolescent seeking to define himself rather than taking the definitions offered by circumstance, but the telling is so compelling that the ending almost takes the reader by surprise. If the end is a little tidy, the getting-there is not-and it's the getting-there that provides this offering's greatest reward. (Fiction. 12+)
From the Publisher
"A brilliant exploration of the power and responsibilty of gifts . . . Provocative."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Intriguing as a coming-of-age allegory . . . rich in the earthy magic and intelligent plot twists that made the Earthsea novels classics."—Booklist (starred review)

"Science-fiction icon Le Guin probes the natures of fear, power, and love in this darkly beautiful, quietly provocative novel."—Family Fun

"Fantasy, artfully spun by an American master."—Parade

"One can recommend this book without hesitation to teens looking for a great fantasy read that does not follow the standard quest format."—VOYA

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Annals of the Western Shore Series, #1
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.62(d)
830L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

He was lost when he came to us, and I fear the silver spoons he stole from us didn't save him when he ran away and went up into the high domains. Yet in the end the lost man, the runaway man was our guide.

Gry called him the runaway man. When he first came, she was sure he'd done some terrible thing, a murder or a betrayal, and was escaping vengeance. What else would bring a Lowlander here, among us?

"Ignorance," I said. "He knows nothing of us. He's not afraid of us."

"He said people down there warned him not to come up among the witches."

"But he knows nothing about the gifts," I said. "It's all just talk, to him. Legends, lies..."

We were both right, no doubt. Certainly Emmon was running away, if only from a well-earned reputation for thievery, or from boredom; he was as restless, as fearless and inquisitive and inconsequential as a hound puppy, trotting wherever his nose led him. Recalling the accent and turns of speech he had, I know now that he came from far in the south, farther than Algalanda, where tales of the Uplands were just that-tales: old rumors of the distant northland, where wicked witchfolk lived in icy mountains and did impossible things.

If he'd believed what they told him down in Danner, he'd never have come up to Caspromant. If he'd believed us, he never would have gone on higher in the mountains. He loved to hear stories, so he listened to ours, but he didn't believe them. He was a city man, he'd had some education, he'd travelled the length of the Lowlands. He knew the world. Who were we, me and Gry? What did we know, a blind boy and a grim girl, sixteen years old, stuck in the superstition and squalor of the desolate hill farms that we so grandly called our domains? He led us on, in his lazy kindness, to talk about the great powers we had, but while we talked he was seeing the bare, hard way we lived, the cruel poverty, the cripples and backward people of the farms, seeing our ignorance of everything outside these dark hills, and saying to himself, Oh yes, what great powers they have, poor brats!

Gry and I feared that when he left us he went to Geremant. It is hard to think he may still be there, alive but a slave, with legs twisted like corkscrews, or his face made monstrous for Erroy's amusement, or his eyes truly blinded, as mine were not. For Erroy wouldn't have suffered his careless airs, his insolence, for an hour.

I took some pains to keep him away from my father when his tongue was flapping, but only because Canoc's patience was short and his mood dark, not because I feared he'd ever use his gift without good cause. In any case he paid little heed to Emmon or anyone else. Since my mother's death his mind was all given to grief and rage and rancor. He huddled over his pain, his longing for vengeance. Gry, who knew all the nests and eyries for miles around, once saw a carrion eagle brooding his pair of silvery, grotesque eaglets in a nest up on the Sheer, after a shepherd killed the mother bird who hunted for them both. So my father brooded and starved.

To Gry and me, Emmon was a treasure, a bright creature come into our gloom. He fed our hunger. For we were starving too.

He would never tell us enough about the Lowlands. He'd give an answer of some kind to every question I asked, but often a joking answer, evasive or merely vague. There was probably a good deal about his past life that he didn't want us to know, and anyhow he wasn't a keen observer and clear reporter, as Gry was when she was my eyes. She could describe exactly how the new bull calf looked, his bluish coat and knobby legs and little furry hornbuds, so that I could all but see him. But if I asked Emmon to tell about the city of Derris Water, all he said was that it wasn't much of a city and the market was dull. Yet I knew, because my mother had told me, that Derris Water had tall red houses and deep streets, that steps of slate led up from the docks and moorages where the river traffic came and went, that there was a market of birds, and a market of fish, and a market of spices and incense and honey, a market for old clothes and a market for new ones, and the great pottery fairs to which people came from all up and down the Trond River, even from the far shores of the ocean.

Maybe Emmon had had bad luck with his thieving in Derris Water.

Whatever the reason, he preferred to ask us the questions and sit back at ease to listen to us-to me, mostly. I was always a talker, if there was anybody to listen. Gry had a long habit of silence and watchfulness, but Emmon could draw her out.

I doubt he knew how lucky he'd been in finding us two, but he appreciated our making him welcome and keeping him comfortable through a bitter, rainy winter. He was sorry for us. He was bored, no doubt. He was inquisitive.

"So what is it this fellow up at Geremant does that's so fearsome?" he'd ask, his tone just skeptical enough that I'd try as hard as I could to convince him of the truth of what I said. But these were matters that were not much talked about, even among people with the gift. It seemed unnatural to speak of them aloud.

"The gift of that lineage is called the twisting," I said at last.

"Twisting? Like a sort of dancing?"

"No." The words were hard to find, and hard to say. "Twisting people."

"Making them turn around?"

"No. Their arms, legs. Necks. Bodies." I twisted my own body a bit with discomfort at the subject. Finally I said, "You saw old Gonnen, that woodsman, up over Knob Hill. We passed him yesterday on the cart road. Gry told you who he was."

"All bent over like a nutcracker."

"Brantor Erroy did that to him."

"Doubled him up like that? What for?"

"A punishment. The brantor said he came on him picking up wood in Gere Forest."

After a little, Emmon said, "Rheumatism will do that to a man."

"Gonnen was a young man then."

"So you don't yourself recall it happening."

"No," I said, vexed by his airy incredulity. "But he does. And my father does. Gonnen told him. Gonnen said he wasn't in Geremant at all, but only near the borderline, in our woods. Brantor Erroy saw him and shouted, and Gonnen was scared, and started to run away with the load of wood on his back. He fell. When he tried to stand, his back was bent over and hunched, the way it is now. If he tries to stand up, his wife said, he screams with the pain."

"And how did the brantor do this to him?"

Emmon had learned the word from us; he said he'd never heard it in the Lowlands. A brantor is the master or mistress of a domain, which is to say the chief and most gifted of a lineage. My father was Brantor of Caspromant. Gry's mother was Brantor of the Barres of Roddmant and her father Brantor of the Rodds of that domain. We two were their heirs, their nestling eaglets.

I hesitated to answer Emmon's question. His tone had not been mocking, but I didn't know if I should say anything at all about the powers of the gift.

Gry answered him. "He'd have looked at the man," she said in her quiet voice. In my blindness her voice always brought to me a sense of light air moving in the leaves of a tree. "And pointed his left hand or finger at him, and maybe said his name. And then he'd have said a word, or two, or more. And it was done."

"What kind of words?"

Gry was silent; maybe she shrugged. "The Gere gift's not mine," she said at last. "We don't know its ways."


"The way a gift acts."

"Well, how does your gift act, what does it do, then?" Emmon asked her, not teasing, alive with curiosity. "It's something to do with hunting?"

"The Barre gift is calling," Gry said.

"Calling? What do you call?"


Copyright © 2004 by Ursula K. Le Guin

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Meet the Author

Ursula K. Le Guin was born in Berkeley, California, in 1929. Among her honors are a National Book Award, five Hugo and five Nebula Awards, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Brief Biography

Portland, Oregon
Date of Birth:
October 21, 1929
Place of Birth:
Berkeley, California
B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952

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