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The Uplands is a world unlike anything else a traveler has seen. It may appear to be poor farms divided by families whose lineages go back several generations. Each family, however, has a powerful gift that is unique to them. Depending on how these gifts work, though --- whether in healing or in violence --- is the key to the survival of each family. This is an important factor that best friends Orrec and Gry have known all their lives.

Orrec's father is Canoc, the Brantor of Caspromant. A brantor is the master or mistress of a domain and the most gifted of a lineage. His mother is Melle Aulitta from Derris Water of the Lowlands. The Caspro gift is called the undoing and, despite the fact that his mother does not have a powerful gift of her own, Orrec seems to be destined for greatness. However, as with any powerful gift, this one has its own set of pros and cons.

When Orrec is a young child, he witnesses his father using his gift on a trapped rat in a half-filled rain barrel and its shapeless result. Canoc has his young son try to practice his gift by untying a knot of horse hair, but being not yet six, Orrec is unable to complete the task. Canoc reassures his son that he'll develop his own power soon and tells him the story of the Blind Caddard. The Blind Caddard was an ancestor who first came into his gift at the age of three and after some time was blindfolded for three years as a precaution against misusing his gift. He learned well and, when he was older, progressed into one of the most powerful brantors of all time.

Canoc then tells his son of when Caddard became blind. He lost control and, in a rage of anger, destroyed a serving girl and his wife. Devastated, Caddard permanently blinds himself to prevent a similar tragedy from ever happening again. For the rest of his life, the Blind Caddard lived with cattle herders far away from his former domain. Needless to say, the story leaves a lasting impression on Orrec.

Years go by, and Orrec and his best friend Gry are now thirteen. Gry has the Barres gift of calling animals both for work and in a hunt. Her mother is the Brantor of the Barres of Roddmant and her father is the Brantor of the Rodds of that domain. Unfortunately, for a worried Orrec, the Caspro gift has yet to appear. That seems to change, however, when Orrec appears to kill a snake with the gift while out riding with his father and a young farmer named Alloc.

Orrec is convinced that he didn't kill the snake and that his father did it in order to build up Orrec's confidence. Canoc denies ever killing the snake and Orrec feels the pressure to succeed overwhelming. His father reassures him that he will have his gift soon and lets the matter drop once again. Several days go by and Orrec's family is visited by Canoc's rival, Brantor Ogge of Drummant. Drum's offer of a betrothal between his granddaughter and Orrec foreshadows many great changes to come.

One morning, during another riding excursion with Canoc and Alloc, Orrec's gift seems to appear once again. This time Orrec accidentally destroys his dog Hamneda, after the dog breaks from his leash and scares Orrec's horse. Canoc and Alloc are now even more convinced that Orrec killed the dog and the snake, but Orrec doesn't think he's capable of doing so because he didn't feel the power go through him. Tired of the situation and his son's refusal to willfully use his gift, Canoc decides to take his son out to test him the next morning.

While looking for two prized white heifers stolen from their domain, Orrec is asked what he already knows is expected of him. He feels he won't be able to show his power at will, but tries again anyway. Orrec wills his dormant power to unmake an anthill that he sees along a hillside. When nothing happens, he becomes very frustrated and is on the brink of giving up. What happens next horrifies Orrec, and he decides to have his father blindfold him like Caddard was.

So begins a new chapter in Orrec's life, in which he must rely on his family, friends and a loyal guide dog named Coaly. He soon becomes accustomed to the newfound darkness, but when tragedy falls upon his mother, everything changes once again. Orrec wants to protect those he loves but knows that he can't always do this. When a shocking revelation is brought to light, Orrec realizes that, in the end, he must believe in himself as well.

GIFTS is a well-written fantasy with many modern-day themes, one of which is that in order to overcome obstacles and accomplish great things, you must first believe in yourself. The frequent flashbacks in the beginning of the story made the book slightly difficult to read in some areas, but it was definitely worth it in the end.


Reviewed by Sarah Sawtelle on October 18, 2011

by Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2006
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Graphia
  • ISBN-10: 0152051244
  • ISBN-13: 9780152051242