Pros: necessary read to continue on, characters you wanted to know what happened to
Cons: awkward mix of realism and fantasy doesn't gel
After reading the first three books of Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea Cycle, I wanted to know more about the characters, especially what happened to Ged after he returned from the Land of the Dead in The Farthest Shore. My husband may have forced me into reading the first three books in the series, but I ordered the other three all on my own, the first of which was Tehanu, written several years after the "original" cycle.
::: Arha, Tenar, Goha :::
When Tehanu begins, Goha (who is actually Tenar of the Ring, Arha the Eaten One... whatever you'd like to call her) is the widow of a farmer, and living on Gont, Ged's birthplace. She is maintaining the farm that her husband left until her son, the heir to the farm, returns. Her friend Lark comes to tell her that some vagrants have abused and tried to kill a little girl, who is left half-burned. Goha takes the little girl in, whom she calls Therru in her native language, and soon sets out to Re Albi, after receiving word that Ogion, Ged the Archmage's first teacher, and her protector after Ged rescued her and brought her Gont, is dying.
Goha and Therru arrive in time to be with Ogion when he dies, and stay on in his cottage after he dies at his request to "Wait." When Ged arrives on the back of the dragon Kalessin unconscious and half-dead, Goha takes him in and nurses him back to physical health, although she has less luck with his mental well-being after the loss of his powers. She has established a comfortable second life at the cottage, however, and befriends the local witch, Moss, and the simple girl Heather. However, she has made enemies as well, including the two local wizards, one of whom (Asher) is rumored to be keeping the lord of the estates at Re Albi alive through magic that sucks the life out of the lord's grandson.
Goha also must face men sent by the new king (Lebannen) who are looking for Ged. When she is cursed by the wizard Aspen, and is chased by one of the men who abused Therru, she heads to Gont Port, where she meets the King himself, who takes her on board his ship to return her to her farm, where she had sent Ged to lick his wounds. Returning to her farm isn't what she had expected either though, as she is again confronted with the men who had abused Therru, and then meets up again with Ged the man, who is very different from Ged the Archmage. A summons back to Re Albi by the dying Moss brings Ged, Goha, and Therru to the climax of the novel, and sets up the rest of the Cycle, which continues with The Other Wind.
::: Sparrowhawk, Ged, Hawk :::
In all honesty, I found the book enjoyable until the end, which exposed the book as more of a set-up for the next novel than anything else. As a continuation of such a popular series, getting to know the characters of Goha/Tenar and Ged as people rather than the revered magic/religious figures that there were in the previous books was welcomed. LeGuin gives both of them a very realistic manner, from Goha's frustrations at Ged's self-loathing at the loss of his power to Ged's own sorrows at losing such a huge part of himself.
The problems with Tehanu arise when LeGuin tries to interweave the magic of the first three novels with the realism of this book. While Ged's arrival on the back of Kalessin fits in with the story well, the conflict between Goha and Aspen as well as the goings-on at the estates in Re Albi are given such short shrift that it feels rushed and confusing. When the final scenes play out, the reader is left feeling almost as if another novel has take over, leaving the one you were reading in the dust, and there is no resolution at all, merely questions that you assume will be answered in the next novel.
Tehanu really is a must-read if you want to continue on in the series, as much of The Other Wind will make no sense without the background given in this novel, but it will probably leave most fans of LeGuin's Earthsea Cycle disappointed.
: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : :
More of The Earthsea Cycle:
A Wizard of Earthsea (Book 1)
The Tombs of Atuan (Book 2)
The Farthest Shore (Book 3)