The Other Wind is acclaimed sci-fi/fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin's fourth edition to her Earthsea series. This book, her second "last Earthsea novel," redeems her original last installment to the series, Tehanu and manages to tie up all the loose ends left in the series over the course of the past decade or so. It is an enjoyable read, if not a perfect book.
The Other Wind, unlike the other Earthsea novels, does not focus on Ged, the former ruler and Archmage (head mage) of Earthsea, who lost his powers years ago; he is content to stay on his farm and allow the other characters of the story save the world. Instead, Le Guin's novel centers around Lebannen, the new king of Earthsea, Ged's adopted daughter Tehanu, the dragon Irian (introduced in the short story Dragonfly), who is able to turn into a woman, Alder, a village sorcerer, and Tenar, Ged's wife.
The story opens with Alder on his way to consult with Ged. Ever since his wife died about a year ago, Alder has been having very disturbing dreams. In them, he travels to the wall of stones, the place where the land of the dead meets the land of the living. The dead are clustered on their side of the wall, begging him to break it down and free them from their imprisonment.
Haunted by these dreams even when awake, Alder, half mad with terror, travels to Roke Isle, the seat of wizardry in Earthsea and consults with the Masters of Roke, who rule the island. They believe that there is a deeper meaning to these dreams, though they are unable to uncover it. Therefore, in hopes of discovering what is troubling Alder, they send him to Ged, their former Master.
Ged, no more able to decipher the meaning of the dreams than the Masters, sends Alder to Havnor, capital of Earthsea, to consult with King Lebannen, Tehanu, and Tenar (the latter two are advising the king on another issue). However, at this point we are temporarily drawn away from this somewhat tedious plotline and are introduced to a more immediate and, seemingly separate problem that our heroes face. Dragons have begun attacking villages and destroying livestock, property, and people to the West of Havnor. And, what's worse, they have now begun their attacks on the inner islands, Havnor among them!
In a desperate bid to save his kingdom from ruin at the hands of the dragons, Lebannen asks Tehanu for help. In Tehanu, the book that introduces us to her, we discover that, besides being the adopted daughter of Ged and Tenar, she is the daughter of the dragon Kalessin. Lebannen hopes that the intercession of the daughter of one of their revered elders will convince the dragons to stop the attacks. Despite severe misgivings, Tehanu agrees and she and the king set out to find the dragons, who quickly agree to send a bargainer, Irian, to meet with the king in Havnor.
Irian, who has the ability to change form from dragon to woman, quickly agrees to convincer her brethren to stop the attacks for a short period of time. She also explains why the dragons are attacking: the people of Earthsea have broken the rules that separate dragon from human. Apparently, in the beginning of time, dragons and humans were one species. However, they separated into two different species: the protodragons wanting the power of flight and the ability to reach the heavens and the protohumans wanting the earth and the ability to make and shape with their hands. Unfortunately, when humans began learning magic, previously reserved only to the dragons, they took half of the land reserved for the dragons in the heavens.
Using this land, they created a place where the souls of humans could go when they died; the first wizards did not want to continue with the endless cycle of death and reincarnation that all other creatures go through. Unfortunately, their plan did not work, the dead want to rejoin the cycle and the dragons want their land back and are not above using force to do it! Faced with the possibility of future dragon raids, the characters decide to go to the Immanent Grove on Roke, the source of all magic, to try to puzzle out a solution to the problem.
When they arrive, they are met by the Master Patterner of Roke, who cares for the Grove. Alder now realizes what must be done; the wall of stones that he sees in his dreem must be destroyed and the dead must be set free. The characters do just that, magically sending their spirits to the land of the dead and ripping apart the wall. However, the wall won't fall without a price. Alder, as guide to the otherworld, must give his life in order to bring down the wall. Wanting to rejoin his dead wife, he gladly does. The wall falls, and the dead rejoin the cycle of life and rebirth. The dragons, now satisfied, return to their world in the heavens with Tehanu and Irian.
The Other Wind, though not the best in the series, that award going to A Wizard of Earthsea, is still an enjoyable read. However, it does have some weaknesses:
- The premise of the book is slightly bizarre, with a strange mix of Taoism and dragons. The author's attempt to juggle so many ideas that are slightly too fantastical does fail at times.
- At points, such as the explanation of the afterlife, it becomes slightly too philosophical and preachy.
- It is incredibly slow-moving at times, with many pages filled with dialogue needlessly embellishing the already slightly strange problem in the story, namely that the souls of the dead are unhappy with their afterlife and want to be reborn.
But, as I said before, despite these weaknesses it is still an enjoyable read:
- The book continues where the series left off, tying up the loose plot ends and explaining all of the mysterious events in the series.
- It ends the series on a MUCH better note than Tehanu did, though any book could have accomplished that.
- The Other Wind gives us a glimpse into the lives of the series' beloved characters many years after the events in the original trilogy have been played out. It is interesting to see Lebannen now a seasoned ruler instead of a young boy, Tehanu as a woman of strength, etc.
- The climax of the book is incredibly interesting and fun to read.
In the final analysis
, this book is good, but not wonderful. Interesting, but not a page turner. I would suggest that if you have read the entire series, you should definitely read this book. It provides the needed closure to Ursula K. Le Guin's wondrous world of Earthsea.
Note: The Other Wind was first published in 2001.