Like a marvelous gift, Tehanu arrives — after a wait of 18 years — to gather and weave into a triumphant whole the loose ends…
Book Review

Tehanu, The Last Book of Earthsea

Like a marvelous gift, Tehanu arrives — after a wait of 18 years — to gather and weave into a triumphant whole the loose ends of the Wizard of Earthsea trilogy, which was published in the 1970s. Ursula Le Guin, a champion of the American spellbinder, introduced us in Earthsea to an island kingdom where Ged, the tempestuous young wizard, learned magic from the archmages (Earthsea's senior wizards), rescued the young priestess Tenar from an eerie cult of darkness, and ventured into the ''dry lands'' to wrestle with death.

Le Guin's great strength is the rich detail with which she imagines her world. The lore and the languages, the weather and the food are present with an immediacy that's rare in any kind of fiction, let alone fantasy. In this latest addition to the saga, her powers are ripe; the prose is lucid and intense, and the feeling of lived reality is gripping.

In Tehanu, Le Guin brings back all of Earthsea's most fascinating, attractive characters in middle age. No glamour here: Tenar, the young priestess, has aged into a down-to-earth farmer's widow. Ged, who returns from the ''dry lands'' on the back of one of Le Guin's amazing dragons, is a broken man, grievinggfor his lost powers of wizardry.

In this mature work, her characters have moved past the purely masculine arts of magic and power, and search for new ways of restoring health to their island society. The end is a stunner, yet thoroughly credible: The trail to the climax has been subtly laid throughout the story.

There are tough subjects in this book: the sadism of those who lust for power, male cruelty and violence against women and children (but also male goodness and gentle strength), and the careless bigotry of ordinary people who blame victims for what happened to them.

For adolescents, Tehanu is a challenging, rewarding, exciting read; for those adults who remember being carried away by Earthsea, this reimagining of its original themes, turning them over and examining them with a deeper vision, is an ultimately satisfying conclusion to a loved series. A+

Originally posted Mar 30, 1990 Published in issue #7 Mar 30, 1990 Order article reprints