The Tombs of Atuan

by jenn

The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 2)The Tombs of Atuan

After reading A Wizard of Earthsea I, of course, picked up The Tombs of Atuan, the second book in the series. Just like the first book, this book did not disappoint me. It has all of the excellent writing and storytelling that I expect of Ursula K. Le Guin.

One of the best aspects of this book is the point-of-view. It’s not told from Ged’s viewpoint. In fact, he doesn’t show up in the book until the middle. It’s the point-of-view of Tenar or Arha (The Eaten One) and her job as the Priestess for the Nameless Ones. As the reader, we’ve already been given hints that Ged is going to show up in the Tombs at some point because he is destined to do something with the Ring of Erreth-Akbe, at least we’re told that in A Wizard of Earthsea, but he’s not the focal point.

What makes this especially intriguing for me is that in typical fantasy, his would be the obvious focal point. After all, he’s the hero, he’s the one who saves the world, he’s the person with the super powers, and, worst of all, he’s the man. Instead, Le Guin takes us into the mind of Tenar who is, in some senses on the side of the enemy. She’s been raised from age 5 to be the Priestess of the Nameless Ones, the ones who are holding half of the ring. And yet we care about her. In fact, it wasn’t all that clear to me that the Nameless Ones were as horrible as Ged portrays them to her.

That is the weakness of the story. The dreaded evil Nameless Ones aren’t really as evil as the other priestesses that Tenar lives with. They were creepy and scary in a way that the lightless tunnels and the labyrinth were not. In fact, one of Tenar’s friends wants to run away from those priestesses. So when Ged shows up and talks her into foresaking her gods and leaving with him, I don’t completely buy it.

But it’s okay. The book is very interesting and fun and a new take on the Ged Sparrowhawk character after he’s found his adulthood but before he’s come into all of his powers. If you read A Wizard of Earthsea you should read The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore just for completeness sake. And again, you won’t be disappointed. I liked Tombs, I just wish that the character rationalizations were a bit stronger.