The Other Wind is the sixth book in Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series, which becomes, with this addition, one of the richest fantasies ever created. Le Guin has written an amazingly spare novel, yet from the beginning, every word is weighed and crafted to add depth and resonance. It's like reading a time-release story, where some of the effects are felt much later. Weeks after reading it, I found myself considering different aspects of the story—the meetings of cultures, the inevitability of love, the process of aging and realizing anew how well they all fit together.
After an absence of 10 years, Le Guin returns to the ongoing fantasy realm of Earthsea, a land where actions have consequences, where characters live their lives, are influenced by others and change in unexpected ways. Le Guin's first book in the series, A Wizard of Earthsea, was published some 30 years ago. In it, we were introduced to Ged, who would one day become Archmage, one of the most powerful people on Earthsea. Now Ged is an old man who has given up his power. He and his wife are scraping by on a farm far from the center of the action. He is a minor character, anchoring us in the world, bringing other characters together, yet keeping out of the way of the wizards and rulers of the lands. He has stepped aside for the younger generation, now facing the central question: What is death?
In earlier Earthsea novels, Ged and others crossed the border into the land of the dead. It was a truly frightening place: there were no animals or plants, and the dead walked in silence, never acknowledging one another. Now, Le Guin examines her fictional land of the dead, and finds it wanting. Death is the great and inevitable unknown. No matter how much we fear it or poke and prod at it, we the living cannot truly understand it. In The Other Wind Le Guin makes us face our own mortality, and, without falling back into cliches, new age mantras or religious imagery, gives us a deeply powerful and satisfying conclusion.
Gavin J. Grant lives in Brooklyn, where he reviews, writes and publishes speculative fiction.