We think of gifted people as those with special talents, such as math or painting. But what if you had the talent to twist human bodies, cut flesh with a glance or destroy living things with a flip of a finger? These gifts give the peoples of the Uplands power but also shape their society in a dark manner.
For generations, the Upland people have had strange, magical powers. The gifts travel down from father to son or mother to daughter, and those with the strongest abilities become leaders, making decisions, settling disputes and most importantly, protecting their people from others with gifts of their own. It is a hard land, with poverty common even among the clan leaders. This dark world is where Gry and Orrec grow up, and since their parents have strong abilities, they are expected to become the next leaders of their clans. But both are uncomfortable with their gifts: Gry refuses to call animals to her just to have them hunted down and Orrec, who showed his ability late, has no control over his talent. Since his family gift is to unmake things, he binds his eyes with a cloth after several accidents demonstrate that his power needs direction.
In Ursula Le Guin's new young adult novel, Gifts, we see a society based on the most gifted demonstrating the worst and the best of human nature. Gry and Orrec must not only decide how to use their talents wisely, but also how to deal with family pressures, clan diplomacy, and their usefulness as political pawns. After a brief visit from a man from the Lowlands who wanted to see the witches of the hills, both have a growing feeling that there could be another way to live.
As always, Le Guin has delivered a story that captivates and draws the reader in. Anyone who enjoyed her Earthsea trilogy will relish this new work and fans of dark fantasy, such as Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, will want to check out this title as well. It is another of a long line of gifts from this talented author and well worth your time.
Colleen Cahill is Recommending Officer of Science Fiction and Fantasy at the Library of Congress.