I read The Tombs of Atuan
before the first book in the series, [b:A Wizard of Earthsea|13642|A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)|Ursula K. Le Guin|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1353424536s/13642.jpg|113603]. So, I missed out on a ton of background about the wizard Ged and world-knowledge of Earthsea. Thankfully, since the main character Tenar/Arha is new to the adventure too, I don't feel like my reading experience suffered too much. The Tombs of Atuan
stands on its own as a great work of fantasy.
For me, the most notable characteristic of the story is Le Guin's handling of darkness. The Labyrinth, Undertomb, Hall of the Throne--all filled with shadows or complete, smothering darkness. Tenar's realm as the One Priestess must be negotiated by feel, not by sight. She's the only one permitted access to the Nameless Ones, the dark, ancient forces of the world. No wonder the people fear these forces! And is it surprising that kings would prefer to overthrow the old mystery religion and build a cult surrounding themselves instead? Who wants to ask permission of the darkness anyway? I don't. Give me light over darkness any day.
Speaking of light, because Le Guin depicts darkness in such a claustrophobic, cold, almost breathable way, when light enters her story, it's radiant! Even the dark and scary places become stunningly beautiful when light enters them. Ged is the light bringer for Tenar and for a world wracked with war and superstition. Since I hadn't yet read the first installment in the series, I wasn't aware of the extent of Ged's powers. Le Guin reveals his abilities slowly, with full knowledge of his role in holding back the dark forces of the Nameless Ones coming toward the very end. I can't wait to learn more about Ged very soon!
Honestly, I wish I could give The Tombs of Atuan
more than five stars. It's an extremely well written account of darkness and light that I actually felt while reading. It's been 90 degrees here the past few days, and my mind and body still reacted to Le Guin's cold and oppressive spaces. I got goosebumps! Highly recommended!