Book Review: Tombs of Atuan

Honestly, I’m not really sure why I can’t let go of the sunk cost of buying these books. I wasn’t a fan of the first entry in the series, and I find it rare that series improve after that. However, I’m hopeful that this one won’t be as mythological in feel and might show more than tell.

The Book

Tombs of Atuan 2021 read

Tombs of Atuan
Author: Ursula LeGuin
Amazon Link

The first book, A Wizard of Earthsea, wasn’t my jam. I don’t know what to say here because I explained it all in the intro.

Non-Spoiler Review

I found this entry to the Earthsea series a lot better than the previous one. Rather than telling a lot of little tales building up to a single, momentous occasion, LeGuin tells a more compelling story about a single person’s experiences. The character of Ahara is much fuller than that of Ged, the dialogue is better, and there’s much more of a developed feel as to how the book works. The beginning of the book was pretty good, building up the Tombs of Atuan and how the evil, Nameless Ones demanded a nameless priestess.

The back end, however?

No. Straight up no.

*Minor spoilers?* When the main character ceases to be the motivating presence behind the plot, and when she becomes pretty much useless, the story fell apart for me. LeGuin spent so much time creating a wonderful story with tension and depth, but then it completely fell apart at about halfway through. The ending for the main character didn’t feel terrible, but it’s neither happy nor is it fulfilling. The deaths that occurred felt useless and bland, especially as they all happened off screen.

Though I liked it better than the first in the series, it was only by the smallest margin.

2/5 Discoball Snowcones

2 Discoball Snowcones


I hinted above that the back end was awful, and it was.

Ged, the hero from the first book, showed up about halfway through this book and stole the show.

Not only is he still the overpowered Mary Sue from the last book, he’s supposed to be basically infinitely wise and trustworthy. Ahara learns her name from him, and I found that disgusting – the whole premise was that the Nameless Ones had eaten her name, and by allowing her to have one that Ged just pops up with, her power is stolen. Ever after Ged tells her her name, Tenar, Ahara is pretty much useless. Even when she helps Ged out of the tombs where he is trapped, she cries and becomes a lump except when he tells her what to do. He fends off the gods that Ahara had worshipped and served her whole life.

So they escape, but Ahara is useless because she only knows the tombs. Ged figures out that Ahara has a great treasure sought by the whole world to bring peace, and he pretty much forces her to go to an island and present it to their king.

THEN HE ABANDONS HER even though she begs him to teach her sorcery. What he doesn’t tell her, and what is established in the first book, is that women are worthless so he can’t teach her sorcery. Ged just destroyed what had been a compelling story by coming in and “solving” the problems in the worst possible way.

Also, don’t read LeGuin’s explanations or afterword. Just don’t.

Next week:

I judge The Farthest Shore, or Book 3 of the Earthsea Cycle. Why the heck did I obligate myself for this torture? I pray the next one’s better.

13 thoughts on “Book Review: Tombs of Atuan

  1. Berthold Gambrel says:

    I admire your commitment to slogging through this series even though it’s not for you. I’d have given up long ago. 🙂
    I wish I could say I hope it gets better in the next one, but I’ve already seen your Goodreads review…

  2. Priscilla Bettis says:

    Oh no, sorry to hear the last part of the story sucked. Yeah, Ged swooping in is like a Deus ex machina thing. Maybe it worked back in the ’70s, but contemporary audiences wouldn’t go for it.

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I think the needs in the YA category changed when Harry Potter and, for better or wkrse, Twilight came on the scene. HP is quality stuff (even if JK Rowling is now proving she’s classless), and Twilight further pushed YA to explore more complicated topics. The Earthsea stuff, though? Didn’t have that under our belts then.

  3. D. Wallace Peach says:

    Oh Dear. That sounds awful and dated. Ged swooping in and saving the day for the poor useless lump of a woman… not for me, especially after her strong start. Good luck with the next one.

  4. Chel Owens says:

    This is the first book I read when I discovered the series as a child (or teen; can’t remember). I agree with your assessments of Ged and would have liked Tenar/Ahara/whoever to remain strong or at least not have faded completely. I thought her becoming useless after watching the cave-shadows for so many years was completely on-character but would’ve loved her to not be ousted by the arrival of some stranger.

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