My Year of Finishing Series!

Happy Holidays!
I’m spending time with family for the next few days (we’ve all been tested negative and been isolated for the past weeks, plus we have masks, so it’ll be a very safe and very strange Christmas, but you know. We make the best of it). I have so many reviews to write as well as my favorite books of the year list to finish, but there’s no way I can get that done before Christmas. So I’m leaving you with this loooong list of mostly great books and promise to catch up after 26th December. I hope you’re all safe and healthy and I wish you wonderful holidays!

Entirely by accident, 2020 turned out to be the year where I finally continued and even finished (!) a bunch of book series I had started. By no means did I finish all the series I have ongoing, but a good chunk of them is now done and I cannot begin to tell you how satisfying it is to get to the end of a long, sprawling story that has been with you for years. Even if the ending didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, it still left me with a feeling of accomplishment.

Now let me tell you about the series I finished (or caught up on) this year and whether they were worth it.


Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham – FABLES

Fables complete serie - The Deluxe Edition - Hardcover - - Catawiki

I finally did it! I finished Fables!!! Now, to be honest, this wasn’t a series I ever intended to rush through. Some volumes were better than others but the overall quality was so good that it felt kind of nice to always have a few more volumes to look forward to. I’ve been reading the deluxe editions in increments, sometimes waiting for the next one to come out, then waiting for the right mood to strike. I have had the final three volumes on my shelf for some time now and all I needed to do to get to the very end was pick them up. Thanks to Covid-19 and the lockdown, I had a lot of time on my hands.
This story about fairy tale characters living secretly in our world, with politcal intrigues, crimes, a full-blown war, dark mysteries, curses, love stories, and everything else you can think of, is exactly the kind of thing I go for. At the beginning I would never have thought I’d come to care so much for random side characters or go out and actually buy all the books in the spin-off series about Jack of Fables… and yet I did. It was the idea that drew me in, but it was the characters that made me stay. There were definitely some weaker volumes but I can totally see myself re-reading the entire thing someday.

Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor – Cups and Thoughts

Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Technically, I still have the novella about side characters Mik and Zuzana to read, but I’ve finished the main trilogy after a rather rough start. I first read Daughter of Smoke and Bone years ago and didn’t love it. In fact, I was rather pissed off by the tropes used and the sudden shift in story in that book. On a re-read, however, knowing what to expect, I ended up quite liking the book. Then I continued reading and the series sneakily stole my heart. Laini Taylor’s wonderful ideas and world building are stunning – even if her fictional creatures are maybe a tad too beautiful. The way she wrote about this unwinnable war, about star-crossed lovers, about friendship and death and loyalty and loss… yeah, it worked for me. So much so that, immediately after finishing the second book, I went and devoured the third. Taylor also managed to stick the landing with the ending, delivering a satisfying finale that left me feeling content and mostly happy. I’m definitely still going to read that book about Mik and Zuzana though!


Look, I didn’t expect anything else but I was still surprised at how much this duology touched me. It’s not just Laini Taylor’s exquisite language or her brilliant, faceted characters who are never all good or all bad, it’s also the world building and the plot. Seriously, I can’t find fault in these books and I’ll probably re-read them many times to come.
Any lover of books or fairy tales, anyone who loves learning about different cultures, or who just likes reading about crazy original fantasy ideas will find something to enjoy in these books. Laszlo Strange is so easy to love and his story turns from rather small and intimate into a sprawling epic that I didn’t see coming. I consider this some of the very best the fantasy genre has to offer!

Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea due to be re-released on October 17th with brand new covers and illustrations. : Fantasy

Ursula K. LeGuin – The Earthsea Cycle

Books keep getting added to this series every time I check but for a while, at least, it was the Earthsea Quartet and that’s the part I’ve finished. I still have two short story collections to read but I read all the novels in LeGuin’s beloved fantasy series. This was also prompted by a re-read of A Wizard of Earthsea, a book I didn’t adore either time I read it but one I appreciated much more when I read it the second time, simply because I was looking for different things and noticing different aspects of LeGuin’s genius. When I got to the second book, The Tombs of Atuan, I finally understood why everyone loves this series so much. Man, did that book hit me in the feels! The third one was rather meh but I suspect I may like it more when I’m older and Tehanu, the one that got lots of award nominations and wins, was a thing of pure beauty. There is something special about the Earthsea books. Each is quite different from the previous one, in a way, and yet they all share common themes and LeGuin’s way of conveying emotion almost without me noticing (I mean that in the best way possible).
Reading these books was definitely rewarding and gave me a lot of food for thought.

The Arcadia Project: Borderline; Phantom Pains; Impostor Syndrome von Mishell Baker - Taschenbuch - 978-1-5344-1828-8 | Thalia

Mishell Baker – The Arcadia Project

This is the trilogy where my reading experience has led to a clear recommendation for you guys: Don’t let years pass between books 2 and 3! I read the first and second books soon after they were published and that small-ish gap between them worked fine. But then I waited several years before picking up the third book and I had a hard time remembering everyone’s name and station, who’s currently fighting with whom, how exactly all the magic worked, etc.
That didn’t keep me from enjoying Millie’s story as she handles not only her Borderline Personality Disorder as well as being a double amputee, but also navigating a new workplace (with magic!), her attractive boss, trying to make friends with people who don’t necessarily want to be her friend, and of course all sorts of fairy shenanigans. In terms of representation, this trilogy is amazing! Not only have I never read a story with so many diverse characters in terms of mental health, disabilities, LGBTQIA+, but the best thing is, they are all drawn with care, like real people – some likable, some not so much. These character’s aren’t their disabilities. They are all people, some of whom are gay, some transgender, some with mental health issues, some with physical disabilities, some with disabilities that aren’t visible. Even if there hadn’t been a kick-ass story about humans and fairies, this would be an important trilogy for our time.


Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie – The Wicked + the Divine

I read this comic book series in its entirety (re-reading the first volume) for the Hugo Awards and again, re-reading made everything better. Giving books a second chance is definitely the way to go, because apparently my mood plays a large part in how much I enjoy a book. This series, while it has some slight ups and downs, was overall really fun and exciting.
A pantheon of gods is reborn into regular humans’ bodies who then live like rockstars for two years, after which they will die. Except this time, they seem to die much quicker and it’s not of “natural causes”. There was so much to love here, starting with the art style which I found absolutely stunning. The story also grows bigger and bigger as you follow along. The characters become more fleshed out and I caught myself caring for some of them who I previously didn’t even notice all that much. Overall, this was a great experience, all the more because it sticks the ending.

Die Ära der Zeitreisen | Kultur

Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson – Paper Girls

For this, I didn’t re-read the first volume, which I had also read when the series first started. I liked the Stranger Things vibe but I remember that the story got a little too crazy for me at the end of the first book. As I continued, however, I was just fine with the amount of crazy. Time travel, LGBT romance, meeting your older selves, saving the world… yes please, give me more.
I don’t quite know why, but although I enjoyed every single volume of this 6-volume series, none of the instalments ever got me really excited. It felt a bit like a great mash-up of things that had been done before, drawn quite beautifully, and told well. But not groundbreaking. So it was a solid series, I’m happy I read it, but I don’t think I’ll revisit it.

Robin Hobb – The Tawny Man Trilogy (Realm of the Elderlings)

I first read Assassin’s Apprentice when I was 16 years old (I’m 34 now) and spent the following years devouring more and more of Hobb’s books set in the Realm of the Elderlings. Except with the Tawny Man Trilogy, I kind of hit a slump. I read The Golden Fool in 2012, so it’s been a LONG time. But Hobb wouldn’t be Hobb if she didn’t manage to immerse me in her world immediately and make me feel like no time has passed at all. I finally finished this third trilogy in her series of connected trilogies (plus one quartet). And although this trilogy is done, I will continue on with the larger series and see what’s been happening down South with those Bingtowners and the people in the Rain Wilds. After all, nobody can make me cry like Robin Hobb and her stories have stayed with me throughout the years. I’m actually glad I still have more of them to look forward to.

N. K. Jemisin – The Broken Earth Trilogy

You guys, I know it’s weird that I didn’t gobble up these books right when they came out. The Fifth Season still is one of the most mind-blowing fantasy books I’ve ever read and I wish I could erase my memory of it just to experience it for the first time again! But it’s exactly because it was so good that I waited a while before picking up The Obelisk Gate. And then I saved up The Stone Sky deliberately as a treat. Well, I think I’ve earned that treat by the end of 2020 and so, in December, I finally picked up the finale of this triple Hugo Award winning trilogy.

All caught up

Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda – Monstress

This is the one series on this list that I don’t plan to continue. I had read the first volume when it came out, liked it okay, but not enough to continue. The gorgeous art kept distracting me from the story and the aloof protagonist never managed to get me emotionally involved with her story. But as volume 4 was nominated for a Hugo Award this year, I caught up on the series and am left with the exact same feeling. Cool ideas, stunning artwork, but little emotional impact. I have to concede that this series is just not for me because as far as I can tell, neither writer nor artists are doing anything wrong. I see the appeal and I’m glad so many other people like it, but I don’t feel like reading more of it.
If the next volume is nominated for a Hugo again, I’ll read it but I won’t go out and actively buy a copy for myself.

Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn

So, I had read (or rather listened to) all of the Mistborn books already. First era, second era, all done. But! There was still this little novella set during the first era told from a different perspective on my TBR. I finally picked this one up, not expecting too much from it. I should have known better. Sanderson always delivers, after all!
Plotwise, Secret History doesn’t offer much that’s new, but it was like a behind the scenes look that gives a bit more background information on the larger story and on the Cosmere as a whole. You don’t need to read this to enjoy the Mistborn series but if you’re into the Cosmere, you won’t want to  miss it.

Brandon Sanderson – Skyward

Yeah, there’s no question I’ll always jump on the next book in this series as soon as it comes out. This YA sci-fi series is not Sanderson’s best but I can’t help but love it anyway. You’ll get his trademark twists at the end, you get a cast of lovable characters, great side characters (M-Bot & Doomslug!) and you get an exciting plot that promises even bigger secrets to be revealed in the future.
I also loved how Sanderson has grown in terms of his characters. They still don’t curse, ever, but in Starsight, we get characters who don’t belong to a specific gender and that’s not something I had expected from Sanderson. Way to go and please keep moving in that direction. People and aliens come in all different shapes, sizes, genders, with all kinds of abilities and disabilities. There will be two more volumes in this series so I don’t expect it to be finished before 2023. Until then, we get the next Stormlight Archive book, so I’m not complaining.

Carina's Books: Cover Reveal: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman – The Book of Dust

I had heard mixed things about this follow-up trilogy to His Dark Materials. With La Belle Sauvage, Pullman convinced me that he could actually pull it off and The Secret Commonwealth was no different. We follow an adult Lyra whose relationship with her daemon Pan is rather fraught. Lots of exciting things happen, of course, but the heart of the story is Lyra and Pan’s struggle to find back to each other emotionally.
Look, this isn’t His Dark Materials and nothing can take away the greatness of that trilogy. Even if the story is very different, the writing style gives me major nostalgia and reminds me how I felt when I first discovered this world as a teenager. So it is a worthy successor and one I intend to follow until the end.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Her Pitiless Command

I was thrilled to find out that the book that had felt so much like a series opener was, in fact, a series opener. So I picked up Mirrorstrike soon after it came out. It wasn’t as good as the first book, Winterglass, but then middle volumes rarely are. When the third volume comes out, I’ll be right here waiting for it because the characters and world building are simply too good not to find out how it all ends. And let’s not forget the absolutely stunning language with which Sriduangkaew tells this sort-of fairy tale retelling of The Snow Queen set in South East Asia.

Review: Martha Wells & The Murderbot Diaries | A Study in Murderbot

Martha Wells – The Murderbot Diaires

I waited a bit before I picked up the first full-sized Murderbot novel, part five of the Murderbot Diaries. When I did pick it up, it was just as delightful as I had hoped. Murderbot simply has a way of stealing your heart with its hilarious narration and the way it deals with emotions (it would rather not). This series is a source of pure joy and I hope it continues for a long, long time – whether the next one is a novella or another novel, I don’t even care. Just as long as I get more Murderbot and maybe even more ART. Despite all the action and the constant danger, I’d even call this a feelgood series.

Continued a bit

Emma Newman – Planetfall

So I actually only started this series this year but rather than do what I usually do (read book one, then wait forever before I pick up the next), I continued pretty soon after with the second book. Although very different in setting and story type, I was taken with both of these. And since the series is finished, I intend to read the other two books as well. And soon!
Planetfall tells a very interesting story set on a different planet where humans have settled. But things aren’t exactly as they seem, the protagonist holds a highly intriguing secret (well, more than one actually) and things unravel from there.
In After Atlas we get a police procedural set on Earth, but a future Earth where society works a bit different from ours, and not exactly in a good way. I had so much fun reading both of these and I can’t wait to discover where Emma Newman takes the story in the final two books.

The Dark Tower series (9 BOOKS) BY Stephen King-MP3 AUDIOBOOK – ty's cheap DIGITAL audiobook/Etextbook

Stephen King – The Dark Tower

I don’t even remember when I started this series but I think I was still in school. So… very long ago. The first book wasn’t really for me, the second took a while to get going but then I binged books 3 and 4 right after. Wolves of the Calla was the one that made me stall again. It was just too long, had too many side stories, and I was a bit burned out on Dark Tower stuff by then. Newly motivated to continue some series, I picked up Song of Susannah, read it in no time at all and, while not loving it, at least gained my excitement for Stephen King’s writing back as well as the urge to finally finish this epic series. So far, I have managed to avoid spoilers about the ending (thank you, internet, for being so considerate and actually hiding spoilers about this series 🙂 ).

Open Your Door to Centaurs and Unicorns in Across the Green Grass Fields, the Newest Installment of Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children Series! |

Seanan McGuire – Wayward Children

This series is so hit or miss for me I hadn’t planned on continuing it. But it keeps getting nominated for the Hugo Awards and as a diligent voter, I had to pick up In an Absent Dream. It turns out, this was one of the good volumes and I really, really enjoyed it. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ll continue with the next book even if it doesn’t get an awards nomination. Considering how much I hated the third book, that’s pretty high praise.

Series Sunday: Toby Daye by Seanan McGuire – Post Thirty Two of Stay Home Order – Redd's Reads

Seanan McGuire – October Daye

As strange as my relationship with McGuire’s writing is, this is a series I really like so far. Granted, I’ve only read the first two books but they have both delivered exciting, action-packed tales with interesting fairy politics and a protagonist I can root for. I know nothing about the rest of the series (again, thank you, people who use spoiler tags!) but I’m hoping for a certain romantic pairing and to see more of some side characters I’ve grown to like.
I usually read hardly any Urban Fantasy so I’m glad I discovered a series I can follow along, knowing I’ll get a quick read that will be fun and make me feel stuff. I think the Shakespeare quote titles are a bit pretentious and don’t have much to do with the plot but I intend to stay with this series for the next few years. These books (so far) are excellent to get you out of a reading slump.

My Top Ten 2019 Reads (+ 20 More Great Ones) – Book Geek Reviews

Jessica Townsend – Nevermoor

I picked up the The Trials of Morrigan Crow during my holiday (which luckily fell into the time just before Covid-19 hit Europe and everything went into lockdown), then continued on with The Calling of Morrigan Crow in the Summer. I bought the third volume when it came out but haven’t gotten to it just yet.
This is such a heartwarming, whimsical tale with the loveliest found family, great friendships and lots of cool ideas. The world of Nevermoor may be dangerous, but it’s a cozy kind of dangerous if you know what I mean. Following Morrigan on new adventures feels a bit like coming home and the series was definitely worth it for all the warm and fuzzy feelings it gave me.
It’s also nice to have a book series I can gift to the kids in my family that isn’t you-know-what.

My Fancast/Dreamcast: An Ember In The Ashes Series – NJG

Sabaa Tahir – An Ember in the Ashes

I remember how the first book in this quartet had me at the edge of my seat THE ENTIRE TIME. Every chapter made my pulse go up because it was so damn exciting and I was so scared for the protagonist! I wanted more of that, but unfortunately, the second book was a big let down. There was a ridiculous, obvious, unnecessary love triangle, the plot was quite weak, and there were none of the tense scenes I enjoyed so much in book 1. I’ll give the next book a chance but I’m not super eager to continue the series at this point. Depending on how well volume 3 does for me, I may just call it quits after that.

Marissa Meyer's Renegades Trilogy is Riveting Superhero Fiction | Den of Geek

Marissa Meyer – Renegades

I was lukewarm about Meyer’s sci-fi superhero series Renegades after reading the first book. Sure, it was fun and easy to read, but it felt a bit unstructured and convoluted. I did pick up the second book because Meyer is my guilty pleasure author and sometimes you just need a book that doesn’t require too much brain power. I enjoyed it well enough, I liked how it fleshed out the world and finally delivered some moments I had been hoping for from the very start.
It’s not great science fiction and not great literature either, but definitely great fun. After the second book, things are perfectly set up for a great climax, so it won’t be too long before I finish the trilogy.

Andrzej Sapkowski – The Witcher

Like many people, I finally picked up the Witcher books because of the Netflix series and I’m not sorry. Not only did the picture of Henry Cavill in my mind greatly enhance the reading experience, but the books themselves also surprised me. My expectations were… let’s say different. I thought tough manly Witcher man would run around slaying monsters. Instead I got a thoughtful exploration of who the real monsters are and a protagonist who, most of all, stands out because of his empathy! So far, I’ve read the two story collections that form the start of the series as well as the first novel. It wasn’t as good as the collections but I’m still invested enough in this universe and its characters that I look forward to the rest of the series.

Netflix verfilmt Bone von Jeff Smith - Anidrom - Animation News

Jeff Smith – Bone

I have a big, chunky all-in-one volume of this series and finally started reading it late last year. This charming tale about three bone creatures trying to survive in a hostile world and find their way home to Boneville starts out so simply and then slowly grows in the telling. At first, it’s this whimsical, cute story, but the more adventures the Bones go on, the bigger the world seems to get. We get mythology, strange creatures, lovable side characters, and a tale that grows up to be rather epic in scope.
I’ve read four out of the ten volumes so far and I’m glad there’s more Bone to look forward to.

Diana Wynne Jones – The Land of Ingary/Howl’s World

This loosely connected trilogy has languished on my TBR for too long. I read and loved Howl’s Moving Castle many years ago but when it was picked for the Sword and Laser book club, I took that chance to finally continue the series instead of re-reading the first book. Diana Wynne Jones writes with such charm and ease that it’s hard not to love her stories.
Humble carpet merchant Abdullah goes on an unexpected and rather wild adventure that was too delightful to describe here. Howl and Sophie do make an appearance, but this is clearly Abdullah’s book. I can’t wait to finish the trilogy next year. Whenever I need a book that feels like balm for my soul, I’ll pick this up.

So this is it… I swear I didn’t set out to do this at the beginning of the year. I planned on catching up on some series but I never thought I would get so far. It’s been incredibly rewarding, especially when I was reminded again, after years of neglecting a series, how much I loved it in the first place and how great it was to return to that world.
I’ve also discovered that re-reads can do wonders. Books I didn’t like the first time suddenly appeared in a new light or I appreciated things I simply missed before.

How are you handling your book series? Do you wait until it’s finished and then binge it in one go? Do you catch up on the newest volume every year? Or are you like me, which is to say completely unorganized? 🙂

A Woman’s Worth: Ursula K. LeGuin – Tehanu

My very first Series Crackdown readathon is going quite well. I’m happy the prompts forced me to continue my Earthsea readthrough and I finally got to this highly acclaimed volume in Ursula K. LeGuin’s classic book series. I can see why opinions vary about this book but, for me, it was a stunning work of fiction that will leave me thinking for a long, long time.

by Ursula K. LeGuin

Published: Gollancz, 1990
eBook: 320 pages
Series: The Earthsea Cycle #4
My rating: 8/10

Opening line: After Farmer Flint of the Middle Valley died, his widow stayed on at the farmhouse.

In this fourth novel in the Earthsea series, we rejoin the young priestess Tenar and powerful wizard Ged. Years before, they had helped each other at a time of darkness and danger. Together, they shared an adventure like no other. Tenar has since embraced the simple pleasures of an ordinary life, while Ged mourns the powers lost to him through no choice of his own.
Now the two must join forces again and help another in need – the physically, emotionally scarred child whose own destiny has yet to be revealed…

This is going to be a tough book to review, not only because there are so many layers to it but also because it opens with something terrible. Tenar, who we met in The Tombs of Atuan, has chosen the simple life of a sheep farmer’s wife for herself rather than pursuing grand magical ambitions. She now lives as the widow Goha on Gont, with her two children grown, and her late husband’s farm to take care of. In the prologue, she is called to help a child who has been hurt… I say hurt, but what really happened is beyond horrible. A young girl is found lying half in the flames of a campfire. She has been beaten and raped and thrown into the fire to die. But Tenar and her friend Lark manage to save the girl.

Cut to a year later. Tenar has adopted the young girl Therru, who is scarred both phyiscally and emotionally. I found the way LeGuin described Therru incredibly believable – a quiet child with massive trust-issues who rarely speaks, hides the burned side of her face and won’t let men touch her. It’s difficult for me to talk about this because I have no experience (thank goodness!) with sexual assault or assault survivors. I don’t personally know anyone who has lived through something like that, so the only thing I can draw from is my imagination. I can use empathy to understand Therru but I also know I’ll never really understand Therru. All that said, from my very flawed perspective, I found her to be an amazing character even though – or maybe because – she speaks so little. Tenar’s love for her is visible on every page, in little gestures, in how she tells Therru stories, in how she cares for her. It both made me want to cry and warmed my heart.

But the plot isn’t just about Tenar trying to give Therru a fulfilled life. She is soon called to Re Albi where Ogion (remember him?) is dying. And of course this wouldn’t be an Earthsea book if Ged didn’t show up eventually, too. With him, we get another character who has lost something, who deals with depression and has to find a way to live without his powers. As much as I liked seeing Ged come to terms with this new life of his, this is really Tenar and Therru’s story and it was for them that I kept turning the pages. The moments when Therru’s assaulters are confronted had me hold my breath, not only because – like Tenar – I wanted to protect the girl from ever having to face them again but also because their showing up makes the horror of that night all the more real.

Another thread that runs through this book is the mystery of who or what Therru is. The village witch is afraid of her, not because of her scarred face and hand, but because of something else. It wasn’t super hard to guess what Therru is, at least somewhat, but that didn’t diminis the reading pleasure for me. And that plot thread manages to do something truly amazing by the end, which I can’t tell you because that would spoil things. Again, you’ll probably guess most of it before it happens but that didnt’ make it any less satisfying for me.

The most important part of this book – and the one that apparently got LeGuin a bunch of negative feedback when she first published it – is the question of a woman’s role and value. Over and over again, Tenar is looked down upon because  of her gender. What few rights she has were given to her by men and can be taken away by them too. When the wizards of Roke are looking for a new Archmage and someone suggests looking for “a woman on Gont” on this search, that idea is met with utter ridicule. Because of course women couldn’t possible master magic the way men can. Even Ged is guilty of large dose of sexism, despite his great respect for Tenar as a person. Again, LeGuin’s writing gets to shine in these moments because even though some characters are just plain despicable, the majority of them come in shades of grey. They are all a product of their time and upbringing and that usually means they think little of women and foreigners – both of which are combined in Tenar. Whether it’s comments on a widow not being worth looking at anymore (because if she’s not a virgin, who could possible want her?) or Tenar’s rightful anger at being dismissed at every turn, I shared that anger and I felt her helplessness.

Just like with the other Earthsea books, it’s more what’s between the lines than the actual plot that intrigued me. I don’t know that I would call this an enjoyable read because it deals with such difficult themes and puts its characters through horrible things, but the way these books make me think and stay in my mind after reading is definitely special. I’m almost sad I only have a little bit of Earthsea left, but I also need to wait a while until I pick up the next one. These books may be on the shorter side but they pack a punch. Ursula K. LeGuin was a brilliant writer and I’m glad she decided to share her stories with the world. What a treasure!

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

Ursula K. LeGuin – The Farthest Shore

My reading of the Earthsea Cycle continues and I believe that I have made it past its most boring entry with this book. It’s not without merit – quite the opposite – but it’s a book that makes you work for it. The enjoyment isn’t right there on the page, you have to create it yourself. And, honestly, I struggled with that at times.

by Ursula K. LeGuin

Published: Bantam, 1972
Ebook: 288 pages
Series: Earthsea #3
My rating: 5/10

Opening line: In the court of the fountain the sun of March shone through young leaves of ash and elm, and water leapt and fell through shadow and clear light.

Darkness threatens to overtake Earthsea: the world and its wizards are losing their magic. Despite being wearied with age, Ged Sparrowhawk – Archmage, wizard, and dragonlord – embarks on a daring, treacherous journey, accompanied by Enlad’s young Prince Arren, to discover the reasons behind this devastating pattern of loss. Together they will sail to the farthest reaches of their world – even beyond the realm of death – as they seek to restore magic to a land desperately thirsty for it.

Magic is disappearing from the world and young Prince Arren is sent by his father to Roke to ask the Archmage Sparrowhawk for guidance. Sparrowhawk, whom we know as Ged, of course, has heard similar tales of wizards losing their powers from different parts of Earthsea and takes young Arren on a quest to figure out what’s causing this terrifying development and how to fix it.

What follows are many very slow chapters that don’t offer a lot of plot on the surface but rather spend most time pondering about life, death, the meaning of ones actions, the need for a king to unify Earthsea, and all sorts of other stuff. Ged sometimes showers Arren in his wisdom and while the young man puts his loyalty into the older man, their relationship goes through a lot of stages before being truly comfortable. Watching them change from a sort of master/follower dynamic into something new was one of the aspects I liked about this book.
So these two men, one the Archmage who has restored the ring of Erreth-Akbe, the other a young prince with the weight of responsibility on his shoulders and no magic at all, travel on the trusty boat Lookfar to far places and devastated islands. They meet people who have been affected by the loss of magic and they see how differently they deal with this loss. Here, too, we got interesting glimpses into other places on Earthsea, but never enough to fully immerse myself. Whenever we’d reach a place and finally talk to someone, within a few pages we’d be gone again, off to the next island.

These were the parts of the novel where I felt I could (and maybe should?) read a lot into the story but I had no idea what the author truly wanted to say. There is a lot of talk about life and death, and how the two are sides of the same coin. But at the same time, this story is also about Arren growing up and learning that people he may idolize are just regular people as well, with flaws and quirks and a past. And while I appreciate these themes and I generally enjoy fiction that makes me think, in this book it was simply too much “let’s think hard about the meaning of life” and not enough adventure, magic, or getting to know characters. Or let’s put it differently, I wasn’t sure where things were going – were we going to fight some evil entity that sucks out all the magic from the world? Would there be an epic battle? Or would this story lead to a quiet, introspective ending where Arren has grown up to be a great, responsible man, and magic is returned because of the power of belief or something like that.

There were some passages that I found truly exciting. Ged and Arren meet a group of people who live on rafts on the open sea, never setting foot on land. Their culture and way of life was so interesting and I had so much fun getting to know them that this was probably my favorite chapter in the entire book. Similarly, I enjoyed their encounters with dragons, and the ending which, while not necessarily the kind of epic battle you’d expect, was moving and actually tied the whole book together neatly.

I feel like this may be the kind of book I will appreciate more on a re-read. It’s a clear departure from the first two novels which could be marketed as YA because I doubt children would have the patience for a story like this. It’s too slow-moving for that. And while I appreciate this work for what it says, I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed reading it very much. Mostly, it was a slog and I had to really work finding something to hold on to, something to care about. That makes it by no means a bad book and the ending made me want to continue the series even more, but as ratings go, I have to take pleasure into consideration. As middling as this may have been, I don’t think you’ll have to wait long for my next review. Tehanu is the Earthsea book I am most excited for!

MY RATING: 5/10 – Meh


Earthsea is so Much Bigger: Ursula K. LeGuin – The Tombs of Atuan

I read A Wizard of Earthsea a few years ago and found it okay. Then I re-read it last year and found it quite good but was still not overwhelmed. However, the world of Earthsea and its magic intrigued me and I wanted to see where the series took it. After having read the second volume, I think I’ve become an Earthsea fan!

by Ursula K. LeGuin

Published: Parnassus Press, 1970
Hardcover: 180 pages
Series: Earthsea #2
My rating: 8/10

Opening line: “Come home, Tenar! Come home!”

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, a young wizard, Ged, comes to steal the Tombs’ greatest hidden treasure, the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. But Ged also brings with him the light of magic, and together, he and Tenar escape from the darkness that has become her domain.

What a sneaky little book! It starts out as a classic fantasy book would, with a young girl being taken from her family to fulfill her destiny of being the reincarnation of The Eaten One, a servant for the Nameless Ones, powers that dwell in the darkness. Her young life is dominated by ritual and loneliness. She learns what her role entails but she is also curious. So the Labyrinth under the temples and tombs and living quarters are not only her god-given domain but also where she spends most of her time exploring. Learning passages by heart, navigating in total darkness, that’s what Tenar – now Arha – is good at. But when a man suddenly appears in the place where no men are allowed, Tenar needs to take action. Whether that will mean having the man executed or learning more about him is the first thing in her life where she has to make her own choice…

I loved this book so much! The beginning is rather slow because, much like Tenar, we are thrown into a small world based on a religion we don’t yet understand. We have to learn the ropes and, in this case, the ropes are pretty boring. But when you take a step back and watch Tenar, you realize just how small her world really is but how it’s everything she’s ever known. Sure, Tenar has heard stories and knows there’s a bigger world out there, with people who look different fromher, with Mages even who can do magic at will. But her home remains the walled-in Place she grew up in, with only priestesses and eunuchs for company, over whom she holds the power.
But even in these early chapters where nothing much happens, LeGuin builds up tension for later events. Tenar learns from the High Pristess Kossil, a severe woman with a streak of cruelty, and receives kindness only from a eunuch and a young girl she befriends. So even if there isn’t much plot at first, the story is interesting because  of the character dynamics.

It doesn’t take too long until the actual plot kicks off, though. Once a mage, holding a stick that creates light, is discovered in the Undertomb, Tenar decides not to do what she is supposed to just yet, but to learn more about this stranger. To nobody’s surprise, this stranger turns out to be Ged, the titular Wizard of Earthsea from the first book, and Tenar soaks up everything he tells her of the world outside. But the pressure of having Ged killed becomes ever stronger. Tenar is battling guilt (she is betraying the Nameless Ones if she lets him live), duty (thieves must be killed), and her own, new feelings, her dreams and hopes of a different life.

I don’t want to spoil anything that happens later but this book is so full of beautiful scenes and conversations. Even without the action, I would have ended up loving it. It may start as a very quiet book and I think, at its heart, that’s what it is meant to be, but there are a few very exciting scenes if you need a little more action to keep you entertained. The setting, although small, was also an interesting departure from the sprawling oceans we have seen on our travels with Ged. The Tombs of Atuan are located in a desert but what’s really exciting is the Labyrinth itself. Its passages, its hidden chambers, its rooms whose meaning was lost centuries ago. The rules and rituals of The Eaten One and her Priestesses – for a book that’s shorter than 200 pages, that’s a lot of world-building.

The ending was a bittersweet thing of beauty. On the one hand, every bit of freedom Tenar can grab for herself makes me want to rejoice, on the other hand, things don’t always go smoothly or easily. Breaking free from one kind of thing means whatever comes next is the unknown, which can be more scary than staying in a confined world which you at least understand. LeGuin also ties together certain plot elements form the first book here. As she didn’t even intend to turn A Wizard of Earthsea into a series starter, I found this all the more impressive. Because whether it was planned or not, it reads like it was. Things come together organically and simply make this fantasy world a bit bigger, give it more depth and more layers,

I hate when authors write a book, then spontaneously turn it into a trilogy or series and clearly didn’t have a plan for the ending. It always shows, the sequels are never as good as the first book, and the endings are often a last-minute half-assed idea that leaves noone really satisfied. But if LeGuin can take random lines she wrote in the first book and then let them grow into something this great and make it feel like she had a plan all along, then I’m in for the whole ride.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

A Classic Fantasy Re-Read: Ursula K. LeGuin – A Wizard of Earthsea

It’s a rare occasion for me to re-read a book. The few things I’ll gladly re-read are the Harry Potter books or anything by Cat Valente. But to pick up a book I didn’t even enjoy that much the first time has really never happened before. Thanks to the N.E.W.T.s Magical Readathon, however, I took the opportunity to dive back into the world of Earthsea so I can finally continue the series. The second time around, the book fared a little better than the first, but the same things that bothered me the first time, still bothered me now.

by Ursula K. LeGuin

Published by: Parnassus Press, 1969
Hardcover: 206 pages
Series: The Earthsea Cycle #1
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak above the storm-wracked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.

Ged was the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, but once he was called Sparrowhawk, a reckless youth, hungry for power and knowledge, who tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an  ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.

This is the story of Ged, a young boy with immense magical talent, who first learns from his witchy aunt in his home village, then becomes apprentice to a mage on his island, then moves on to magic school where he is trained properly in the arts of magic. During his time at school, Ged unleashes an ancient evil, a shadow that follows him wherever he goes from that moment  on. Now it is up to the young sorcerer whether he will forever keep running or face his fear and gain his freedom.

The plot as such is – nowadays – nothing groundbreaking. It seems like your standard fantasy novel, a coming of age tale about a boy wizard in a magical world. But we must not forget when this book was published and that there wasn’t anything like it then. Take alone the fact that there is no great war, no armys of Evil against which our protagonist has to fight. Instead, his battle is a quieter one, with a shadow he himself has set free in the world. Ged’s coming of age is mostly dealing with the consequences of his own actions as well as accepting who he is and finding his place in the world. We may be lucky enough today to have many fantasy books with similar premises but in the late 60ies, I’m sure this was pretty mind-blowing.

As Ged’s story unfolds, we make pit stops (literally) at many of fantasy’s standard tropes. There is a dragon to defeat – or at least to keep at bay – and people in power trying to abuse it. There are villages to be visited on the journey, friends to be made, and school rivals to defeat. And of course, there is the entire Archipelago and beyond to discover via boat and sometimes even on wings.

My biggest problem – both on my first read and this time around – was how very distant everything felt. The writing style is like a fairy tale without all the whimsy. We are served simple facts, we are told how Ged feels, we are told everything that happens in dry langage, without any apparent wish to let the reader get immersed. That doesn’t make the story bad, but it also never let me get close enough to feel anything. I didn’t every get the feeling that I was truly discovering the Archipelago with Ged. Every village seemed much like the last, even if Ged didn’t always receive the same kind of welcome. The world just didn’t come alive. The times when Ged physically encounters his shadow were the only instances where I felt something. And I did want him to succeed, to be free of the thing that haunts him, but while reading, I mostly felt like I was examining an interesting specimen under a microscope. I wasn’t in the story but on the outside, looking in, if you know what I mean.

There are also many hints as to Ged’s further adventures and accomplishments, mostly in throwaway lines that nonetheless make me interested to continue the series. I also heard that the second book will have a female protagonist and female characters of any kind were lacking in this book. In the Afterword, LeGuin explains that, for the time the book was published, she actually subverted the current standard by including women characters, and not just window-dressing women but ones with power who use or abuse it. The fact that most of the characters are also People of Color is another bonus – one that may not have appealed to publishers, judging by the many white-washed covers and the movie adaptation…

While I remember being bored a lot of the time when I first read this book, I didn’t feel that way this time. I wasn’t riveted, because the whole story happened to characters I wasn’t much invested in, but this was a quick read. The story entertained me, it made me want to learn more about the world of Earthsea and the many amazing deeds that lie in Ged’s future. But was this a standout book for me? One that I’ll remember for a long time? Not really.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

Quietly powerful: Ursula K. LeGuin – The Left Hand of Darkness

Last year, through no reason at all, I started reading a newer book and an older book at the same time. There are still so many SFF classics I need to catch up on and, somehow, combining and older and a newer read worked really well. It led me to this amazing book, which led me to a LeGuin shopping spree.

by Ursula K. LeGuin

Published by: Gateway, 1969
Ebook: 336 pages
Series: The Hainish Cycle #4
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.

Genly Ai is an ethnologist observing the people of the planet Gethen, a world perpetually in winter. The people there are androgynous, normally neuter, but they can become male or female at the peak of their sexual cycle.They seem to Genly Ai alien, unsophisticated and confusing. But he is drawn into the complex politics of the planet and, during a long, tortuous journey across the ice with a politician who has fallen from favour and has been outcast, he loses his professional detachment and reaches a painful understanding of the true nature of Gethenians and, in a moving and memorable sequence, even finds love . . .

A while after I started reading this book, I discovered that it was part 4 of something called the Hainish Cycle. Don’t let that scare you away. I haven’t read any of the other books and this one stands quite well alone, although it gives you glimpses of what the other books may be about.

The story is set on Gethen, a winter planet populated by an androgynous people who can become male or female when they reach a certain time in their sexual cycle. They may become male once, female the next time, but the rest of the time they appear neuter and thus, all equal. This may seem like an obvious choice for a feminist writer to make a point about gender equality and it could have come across as a cheap trick – but with someone of LeGuin’s caliber, the people’s gender identity (or lack thereof) grows naturally from the story.

Much like other aspects of the culture Genly Ai discovers on Gethen, the world-building itself is done so effortlessly, by showing instead of telling. While the gender thing may feel complicated to someone like Genly – who is male and always looks male (which makes him appear as constantly at the peak of his sexual cylce to Gethenians, or constanlty aroused) – Gethenian politics and social norms seem even stranger. This is just one aspect that made this book so great. It introduces you to a humanoid people on a planet that has similarities to ours, except it’s always cold, always winter. But the social structures, the genders, the sexual identity of its people are just different enough to give you the same sort of culture shock Genly must be feeling.

There are other things that I had a lot of fun discovering with Genly and trying to piece together in my mind. Oracles, prisons, tensions between nations… but those are just things that happen on the sidelines, between the actual plot. And that, although one might say not very much happens, is just as thrilling. Genly is on Gethen to observe, to let the people know that there are others out there in the vastness of space, that they are not alone but rather welcome to join a greater unity of people. One of the people Genly has to do with on Gethen is Estraven, whom he does not fully trust and who we, as readers, also can’t really put our finger on until the story progresses.

Genly Ai may be the offical protagonist of this novel, but it was Estraven I kept wanting to follow, to learn more about. Through their adventures together, the reader gets to know both of them better as they get to know each other and each other’s cultures better. What LeGuin does here with language is just beautiful. There are no long expositions, no explanations even, simply us readers quietly watching Genly and Estraven and the planet Gethen doing what they do and learning through them. The descriptions of the eternal ice and the winter landscapes were lovely, but it was the relationship that builds up over the course of the novel that really intrigued me.

I could read all sorts of things into this book and that makes it enjoyable even after having finished it. It’s the sort of book you should read with others, to discuss afterward, to see what others saw when they read it. I suspect every reading will give you a different experience (although I have yet to try that out myself) and every person will get something different from the book. But despite having only read it once, I understand why it won all sorts of awards and why it counts as a classic of science fiction. It is a truly remarkable work of fiction.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

Ursula K. Le Guin – A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea 1)

Listed among the classics of fantasy, this book has embarrassed me long enough. I finally picked it up, immediately liked it, only to lose interest around the middle. I definitely prefer Le Guin in the sci-fi genre.

by Ursula K. Le Guin

published: 1968
by: Parnassus Press
pages: 198

My rating: 5/10

First sentence: The Island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.

Ged grows up in a little town where he is taught some hedgemagic by the local witch. Soon his overwhelming talent is noticed by a wandering magician who takes him on as apprentice and sends him off to wizard school. During his studies there, Ged accidentally unleashes a dark force that follows him wherever he goes. As he leaves school, he’ll have to decide whether to keep running from this evil shadow or to take a stand and fight it…

Le Guin tells this classic high fantasy story in a fairy tale-like manner. There are very few dialogues, a chapter may months or years go by and action is described to inform, rather than grab the reader’s attention. While the author knows how to write beautifully, I’m not sure this dry style really suited the plot of this particular book. Le Guin’s language was enjoyable to read but the book had many things not working for it.

Earthsea, for example, is – as the name suggests – a collection of islands, groups of islands, and little islets in a vast and unknown sea. I find the idea of such a world quite charming and the cultures that resulted interesting. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see a lot of those. There’s hints, obviously, at people being fishermen and sailors but it didn’t really come alive for me.

Same goes for the characters. While we follow Ged’s journey, he remains kind of in the background. We are told about his feelings and motivations but I didn’t really feel it. As for the other characters, they all felt very much like cardboard to me. There is one rival during Ged’s school time, he meets a ton of people when travelling but nobody came close to me. They are introduced only to have no real part in the story later on. Not caring about the characters, even the protagonist, is a bad thing for me. I’m a huge fan of character-driven books, I don’t have to have a lot of plot or action as long as I find the characters intriguing. I don’t even have to like them. Give me an interesting asshole any day. But this? Meh.

The story arc as such felt unoriginal and standard fantasy, but then this book was published in the late sixties when the market wasn’t as overhwelmingly full of Tolkien knock-offs as it is now. I’m sure it wouldn’t have felt as generic then as it did to me now.

So while I did enjoy Le Guin’s style in general, this book was not a great read for me. The fairy tale-like story telling worked much better in Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books (which are aimed at children but are highly enjoyable even for adults) and felt very episodic and disjointed. Since I didn’t care about what happened to the characters, I’m probably going to forget about this book very soon. I will eventually give the second volume in the series a try but I’m keeping my hopes down, this time.

THE GOOD: Short book, nice writing.
THE BAD: Uninteresting characters, episodic plot, not very surprising ending.
THE VERDICT: Interesting to read from a (fantasy-) historical point of view but nothing that will last in my memory.

RATING: 5/10

Ursula K. LeGuin – The Lathe of Heaven

Auf meiner Reise durch die Science Fiction Masterworks sind mir schon ein paar großartige Bücher in die Hände gefallen. Und es zeigt sich wieder klar und deutlich, dass ein Buch keine 800 Seiten lang sein muss, um eine gute Idee gut umzusetzen. Ursula K. LeGuin kenne ich sonst nur vom Erdsee-Zyklus (noch ungelesen *schäm*) und mit diesen nicht mal 200 Seiten hat sie meine Neugierde erst so richtig geweckt.

Deutscher Titel: Die Geißel des Himmels
Erschienen: 1971
Seiten: 192 (233)
Übersetzt von: Joachim Körber
Erschienen bei: Avon Books (Edition Phantasia)

Meine Bewertung: 7/10

Erster Satz: Current-borne, wave-flung, tugged hugely by the whole might of ocean, the jellyfish drifts in the tidal abyss.

George Orr lebt im Jahr 2002, die Welt ist maßlos überbevölkert, die Luftverschmutzung hat das Klima verändert, und Krieg und Hungersnot steht auf der Tagesordnung. Doch George Orr hat andere Probleme. Er wird Zur Zwangstherapie geschickt, weil er Medikamente missbraucht hat. Denn er hat Angst vor dem Träumen und versucht es durch Tabletten zu unterdrücken. Dass Orrs Träume die Fähigkeit haben, die Welt rückwirkend zu verändern, entdeckt sein Arzt, Dr. Haber, sehr schnell. Und wenn man einen Menschen vor sich hat, der mit seinen Träumen die Welt verbessern könnte, wer würde da nicht in Versuchung geraten…

Obwohl der Erdsee-Zyklus schon seit Jahren subbt, ist dies mein erstes Buch von Ursula K. Le Guin. Und diese Grande Dame der Science Fiction hat mich schwer beeindruckt. Auf nicht einmal 200 Seiten erzählt sie eine überaus spannende Geschichte, die zum Nachdenken anregt und trotz ihres Erscheinungsdatums 1971, abgesehen von ein paar Themen, noch immer aktuell wirkt. Denn Träume sind allen Menschen bekannt und wir können uns ihnen ebenso wenig entziehen wie George Orr.

Doch hier spielt noch ein anderes Element eine Rolle – nämlich die Fähigkeit, Gott zu spielen und was verschiedene Menschen damit anfangen. Die Ideen und Gedankengänge der Charaktere fand ich faszinierend zu verfolgen und ich an Georges oder auch Dr. Habers Stelle wüsste auch nicht wirklich, was mit so einer Gabe tun würde. Wer hätte nicht gerne eine durch und durch friedliche Erde ohne Rassenhass und Ungleichheit? Und wenn sich der Herr Doktor durch Georges Träume auch noch ein schönes Eckbüro erträumt, wer kann es ihm schon verübeln?

Die Handvoll Charaktere in The Lathe of Heaven wirken alle realistisch. Am echtesten erschien mir Dr. Haber, obwohl auch George in seiner Durchschnittlichkeit erstaunlich dreidimensional rüberkommt. Für eine detaillierte Entwicklung von Heather blieb kaum Zeit, sie diente eher zur Anschauung der Konsequenzen von Georges und Dr. Habers Taten. Ich mochte sie nicht unbedingt immer gleich gerne, aber in gewissen Szenen ist sie mir sehr schnell ans Herz gewachsen.
Mir hat diese Lektüre großen Spaß gemacht und obwohl Le Guin hier hauptsächlich über abstrakte Themen spricht, erzählt sich auch eine spannende Geschichte mit einem gut gebauten Spannungsbogen.  Das Ende hat meiner Meinung nach dann noch perfekt gepasst – es hätte kein anderes geben dürfen.

PRO: Flüssig und spannend zu lesen. Gute Dialoge zwischen glaubhaften Charakteren.
CON: Vorsicht: Könnte zu selbstständigem Denken verleiten!
FAZIT: Auch für (Noch-)Neulinge der Science Fiction sehr zugängliches, kurzes Buch, das zeitlose Themen bespricht.