The Other Wind

Ursula K. Le Guin

Harcourt 2001
A book review by Danny Yee © 2002
Alder is a minor sorcerer, a mender of pots. Recently bereft of his wife, he has dreams in which she and others among the dead call to him across the wall from the dry land, with the result that he can barely sleep. In desperation he has gone to Roke, to the island of wizards, and has been sent from there to Gont, to see Ged. The Other Wind begins with Alder arriving at Gont Port and then trudging up to Re Albi: a humdrum and prosaic beginning, but rendered by Le Guin in compelling and seemingly effortless prose.
"When he started up the road it had still lain in the vast shadow of the mountain, but when he turned left to the little village he took to be Re Albi, the sun was blazing in the western sky and under it the sea lay white as steel.
There were scattered small houses, a small dusty square, a fountain with one thin stream of water falling. He made for that, drank from his hands again and again, put his head under the stream, rubbed cool water through his hair and let it run down his arms, and sat for a while on the stone rim of the fountain, observed in attentive silence by two dirty little boys and a dirty little girl."
Ged is no longer a mage, but he finds Alder assistance of a more down-to-earth kind and sends him on to Havnor.

That serves as a kind of introduction, after which The Other Wind turns to kings and dragons and mages and high politics. In Havnor, Alder meets Tenar and Tehanu and king Lebannen, who faces attacks from dragons in the west and uncertain relations with a new king of the Kargad Lands, who has sent his daughter Seserakh to him. After expeditions and councils, they travel to Roke. There representatives of the different knowledges of Earthsea must come together, delve into old myths, and work together, to resolve the mystery of Alder's dreams and undo an ancient mistake.

The characters are quietly convincing. Ged is at peace with the world and himself, if he hasn't actually attained enlightenment, but he is still a star attraction, in his humble present as well as through connections to his past deeds as archmage. Tenar can do no wrong, but talking to Seserakh brings back memories of her Karego childhood and she has to accept Tehanu's destiny. And Alder, emptied by grief, is an unusual but effective choice to observe the more eminent figures around him. Perhaps the only failure is the Karego princess Seserakh, who is supposed to gain in confidence and be plausible at the end as a consort for Lebannen, but who never really attains an identity of her own. (The handling of her veiling also seems strained, and there are so many complex issues surrounding concepts of purdah that it doesn't seem wise raising them merely in passing.)

The other element of The Other Wind that provides tension and uncertainty is the gradual revelation of information about the fundamental nature of Earthsea, about the relationship between Karego-At, the Hardic lands, and the dragons, and the significance of the wall and the land of the dead in The Farthest Shore. The "eschatology" of Earthsea is turned on its head, but in such a way that the mythic foundations of the world come out even stronger than before.

Though different in many ways, The Other Wind is an addition to the Earthsea series that nicely complements and extends the earlier books. It is more in the spirit of the original trilogy than Tehanu was — less didactic and more likely to appeal to children, among other things — and I can imagine some of those who didn't like Tehanu warming to the more recent novel.

April 2002

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%T The Other Wind
%A Le Guin, Ursula K.
%I Harcourt
%D 2001
%O hardcover
%G ISBN 0151006849
%P 246pp