Ursula K. Le Guin,
(Harcourt, 2004)

It's always a pleasure to read a master at the height of her powers. To say this phrase about Ursula Le Guin's newest book is a bit misleading, as she never seems to peak. Like a magical wine from one of her worlds, Le Guin's writing improves with every year, gaining power and ethical intelligence without ever turning sour. No mean feat, when your specialty is muddy moral complexities and you are writing for children. But Le Guin masters these challenges with her usual effortless beauty in Gifts.

Orrec and Gry are cradle-friends in the Uplands, a feudal country whose battles are fought not with knights or arrows but with genetically inherited psychic gifts. Both grow up with the heavy knowledge that they are expected to follow their parents' paths and protect their people with their developing powers. But soon they both realize two terrible truths about their world: their psychic abilities are only used for violence and death; and, to keep these talents alive, they can never marry the ones they love. Up to now, everyone in the Uplands has surrendered their lives to these realities. But Orrec and Gry choose a different path and, in the process, just might remake the face of their troubling country.

Le Guin knows her young adult audience well, and Gifts delivers its moral message in their language. Tender romance, mystery and page-turning characters make for a late-night read, while the issues Orrec and Gry face can prompt a year's worth of heavy classroom discussions. What do we owe our parents, our traditions? If you have power, should you use it? Should a people be allowed to defend themselves by any possible means? If not, who bears the burden for change? That she prompts these questions with subtle grace and gripping story is proof positive that Le Guin's own gifts are only growing with every word she writes.

- Rambles
written by Tracie Vida
published 2 July 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.