Book review by
Dawn Friedman, Common Sense Media
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Well-wrought fantasy explores pacifism, violence.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

The occupying enemy sees women as less than human.


While the violence (including rape) isn't shown, the detailed (and often gruesome) aftermath is.


A character hears rumors about priestesses who have sex with any man who enters the temple.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this sequel to Le Guin's Gifts contains more mature content than its predecessor and may be too much for some kids. Violence, descriptions of the effects of torture, and matter-of-fact mentions of rape are scattered throughout the book, although never gratuitously. For those kids old enough for its mature themes, the book is a capable exploration of violence, culture clashes, and seeing the enemy from the other side.

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What's the story?

The Ansuls, a peaceful people who venerate wisdom, are living under occupation of the warrior Alds. Memer, conceived when her mother was raped by an Ald soldier, vows to avenge her mother and her people. But when a gifted poet named Orrec and his wife Gry arrive, she begins to see her country's plight with new understanding.

Is it any good?

Le Guin maintains her signature lyricism here, but the melancholy of the first book, Gifts, is replaced by sometimes-shocking scenes of the aftermath of cruelty.

This is not a fast-moving novel; Le Guin concerns herself more with the inner struggle of the conflicted heroine than with the intricacies of the rebellion. The result is a rich but challenging exploration of violence, justice, faith, and honor. For some young adult readers, the book will be too slow to capture their interest. Others will be upset by the description of the torments of the Ansul people, including the torture that crippled the Waylord, Memer's caregiver. Readers don't need to have read Gifts before tackling this book, but those who have will be happy to reacquaint themselves with Orrec and Gry, who arrive early in the book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the people of Ansul respond to their violent occupiers, the Alds. How are they able to maintain their values in the face of such opposition, and why is it important that they do so? Why does the Waylord want the heroine, Memer, to see the humanity in the Alds?

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