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A-PowersIn each volume of her Western Shore series (Annals of the Western Shore), Le Guin, the master of the Earthsea series, has explored a different part of a complex fantasy universe through the eyes of an extraordinary young person. Powers continues the pattern with the story of Gavir, a teenage boy who is brilliant but a slave, gifted with prophetic vision but burdened with uncertainty. Gavir lives a relatively idyllic life in a pretechnological society where many slaves are given respect, if not rights. But when the violence of captivity and war force him to flee his master’s house, he sets out to search for his familial roots and begins an odyssey through societies that invigorate both his adolescent character and the reader’s imagination.
Harcourt. 512 pages. $17. ISBN: 0152057706

Sci Fi Weekly 5 of 5 Stars
"In the end, to my mind, these books, in which the magic is essential but underplayed, are more affecting and hard-hitting and emotionally resonant than even the great Earthsea series. Nearing her 80th year, Le Guin remains at the top of her powers. With her first publication being in 1962, she’s in striking distance of a 50-year career, a milestone much to be hoped for." Paul Di Filippo

Globe and Mail (Toronto) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"There is no chicken soup in Ursula Le Guin, no answers you can print on a T-shirt. Instead, she provides a convincing and fully realized narrative that gives the teen reader hope that the huge tasks of growing up, of finding work, love, your people and your self, can be successfully accomplished." Sarah Ellis

Toronto Star 4.5 of 5 Stars
"In her facility in world-making and her interest in human nature, Le Guin stands above almost all of what’s out there. … Gav’s vulnerability and his slow recognition of his real gifts make him both familiar and admirable, like any child who struggles to know one’s strengths and place them in the world. This is a good, long trek of a fantasy." Deirdre Baker

Strange Horizons 4 of 5 Stars
"Le Guin is brilliant at creating whole societies, and here she shows us a slave culture that is for the most part easy, almost bearable. … The series is also concerned with power—or rather, the giving up of power. It’s an unusual theme in a genre that sometimes seems to be only about military or magical power: getting it, fighting to hold onto it." Lisa Goldstein

Critical Summary

Ursula Le Guin is already much beloved by science fiction readers young and old—not only because she writes compelling novels for adults and adolescents but also because she has been doing so for nearly 50 years. Powers has been published as a young adult novel, but reviewers agree that anyone will enjoy Le Guin’s complex characters, fascinating worlds, and explorations of power and learning. Critics emphasize, however, that Gavir’s growing pains will appeal to today’s young readers, particularly those who feel isolated from their peers (and what kid who reads 512-page books other than Harry Potter doesn’t feel isolated from time to time?). While some of Le Guin’s older readers may feel that nothing will ever top the Earthsea series, for readers who pick up the author today, Powers and the rest of the Western Shore series may become the classic.

Annals of the Western Shore

Gifts (2004): The people of the Uplands possess both wonderful and terrible extrasensory gifts. Sixteen-year-old Orrec wears a blindfold to prevent him from destroying life, while Gry refuses to uses her gift to kill animals. As they grow older, they must choose how to use their gifts to realize their potential.

Voices (2006): When Orrec and Gry, now grown up, arrive in a coastal city marred by violence, they work to end the occupation and restore peace to the region.