The final story (and my favorite) within the Annals of the Western Shore. Gavir is a bright young slave boy, in training by his masters to serve as a a teacher of poetry and history for a noble house. Despite a constant bully, Gavir is treated well by his house, is well educated, content, happy, and even loyal to his masters. But, when a slave close to Gavir is raped and murdered, Gavir is taught that even in the finest of houses, a slaves’ death requires no justice. Mad with grief, Gavir walks away from the only world he’s known.

Ursula LeGuin’s slow, deliberate world building is masterfully crafted. This is a young adult fantasy novel that you can’t rush through; it’s meandering and ponderous and slowly reveals a wide range of societal structures through which Gavir traverses on his journey. The crazy hermit, the charismatic revolutionary, the wise old woman with visions, and the humble fisherman are just a few of the characters Gavir encounters. They seem romantic, and then LeGuin makes them real.

I’m left with many questions. Can a slave be happy? Can a dictatorship ever result in a dictator that isn’t obsessed with power? Is true freedom possible? What is freedom if you’re cold and starving? Does a simple Utopian life require ignorance? How is literacy possible, and where does it have value? How does education change a person, and how does it isolate you from those you love who are not educated?

I highly recommend this book if you liked The Dispossessed or Left Hand of Darkness, or for fantasy fans who are ready for an introspective philosophical journey.

“The room smelled of books, that subtle smell which to some is stuffy and to others intoxicating, and it was silent.”