Voices – Ursula K. Le Guin



Memer is a member of the house of the Waylord - the former title of a senior trade merchant of a country now overrun by conquerors who fear reading and keep women confined. The Waylord, crippled by torture, and Memer, the child of rape, are at the heart of what little remains of Ansul society. But a visit from a renowned traveling poet sparks change in all of them.


Quiet and competent like its predecessor, Gifts, Voices is also a more complete story. That book felt to some extent like an introduction, and we do in fact return to its protagonists, Orrec and Gry, again here, though from the perspective of a new character. Memer is a teenaged girl in an occupied town, and Orrec and Gry are considerably older than when we last met them.

While the voice in the latter brought to mind Richard Lllewellyn, this later book recalled Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave, and indeed the magic in Voices is less concrete than in Gifts; it’s not clear that it is really magic at all. Le Guin obviously has her own voice, but these are the resonances these books struck. As with Stewart’s fantasy books, Voices is very much about people and belief.

Le Guin’s books are often political and sociological, and certainly the pervasive theme of this story is discussion and negotiation (as opposed to violence and conquest). But the magic of the approach is that Memer herself has to come to the realizations, and not only the obvious once, but some moderately nuanced ones. I would have liked to see Le Guin expand on some of these realizations a bit, and especially how Memer evaluates compromise (which flashes by fairly quickly), and her hints at real-world cultures are broad, but overall, it’s very effective.

Overall, Voices is an effective, moving portrait of a young woman coming of age in a difficult period.

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