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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
The Other Wind, Ursula K. Le Guin's first Earthsea novel in more than a decade, is so much more than the sum of its parts. Yes, it is the fifth novel (and sixth volume overall, including the short story collection Tales of Earthsea) in Le Guin's classic Earthsea cycle, arguably one of the greatest fantasy sagas of the last century. It was also the winner of the distinguished World Fantasy Award for Best Novel of 2001, beating out the likes of Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, and Lois McMaster Bujold. But The Other Wind is so much more than an award-winning fantasy; it's a deep, theological novel about understanding who we really are and coming to terms with our own mortality.
When I first read the original three Earthsea novels as a teenager back in the early 1970s, one of the most memorable images was that of the dry lands, the gray afterworld in the far west where the dead went for all eternity. A simple stone wall stretches endlessly across a hillside of dead grass separating the living from the dead. The magical border, which no one can cross, can only be visited by the living in dreams.
It is at this border where The Other Wind begins. Alder is a humble sorcerer from the island of Ea whose gift is mending. Ever since his beloved wife, Lily, died, he has been troubled by nightmares of the dry lands. In his dreams, he stands on the hillside by the stone wall while the dead souls -- including his wife -- beg him to free them. He sees them trying desperately to dismantle the stones in the wall. If the wall is breached, will the dead souls invade Earthsea? Alder goes to the mages of Roke Island for answers, but they're mystified. He is eventually sent to Sparrowhawk (a.k.a. Ged), the ex-Archmage of Earthsea, who is now leading a simple agrarian life with his wife, Tenar, on the Island of Gont. After listening to Alder's plight, Ged quickly realizes that Alder's dreams of the dead are connected to other disturbing events in Earthsea, including the recurrence of dragon attacks in the western isles as well as a strange diplomatic gesture from the new warlord king of Karg.
Sensing that Alder's dreams portend some great imminent unbalancing in the world, Ged sends the troubled sorcerer to Havnor to meet with King Lebannen. Ged's wife and their daughter Tehanu are already in Havnor consulting with the king. Also present are Seserakh, a mysterious Kargish princess whose religious and cultural beliefs are much different than those of the Archipelago, and Orm Irian (a.k.a. Dragonfly), a representative from the dragons who has a much different perspective on the dry lands and human afterlife. It is decided that a small group should travel to the Immanent Grove on Roke Island, the center of Earth's powers, to try and rebalance the world.
Although The Other Wind can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel, I think that readers would be doing themselves a great disservice by not reading the first four novels (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, and Tehanu) as well as the short story collection (specifically the novella "Dragonfly"). This adition to the saga not only expands and enriches the Earthsea mythos but also gracefully and poetically concludes the lives of Ged and Tenar, the two primary figures throughout much of the series. Paul Goat Allen