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"The Marsh people have powers, and the city people are afraid of them. So we never talk about anything we can do that they can't. It would be dangerous. Really dangerous. Promise, Gav." Gavir and his beloved sister Sallo were both kidnapped while toddlers and taken from their homeland in the Marshes to serve as slaves in a magic phobic land.

In POWERS, the third installment in Ursula K. Le Guin's Annals of the Western Shore series, we meet Gav, a young slave boy who can remember the page of a book after seeing it once and who sometimes has the ability to "remember" (or foresee) things that are going to happen in the future.

Being a slave does not appear to be a concern for Gav, but there are limits on what he can do. In many ways, though, his existence is similar to the lives of his masters' children. They learn and play together and grow up under the guidance of the same people, although none of the slave children know their parents. He feels honored and lucky --- never owned --- until a terrible tragedy occurs, forcing him to flee the only world he has ever known.

Once again Ursula K. Le Guin has constructed a memorable feudal society framed in some way by magic and slavery. In POWERS we travel away from the slave owners who defined young Gav's life and sense of self to journey with him throughout the lands. First he wanders numb with pain from the horrific loss of love and trust. As he slowly recovers, luck places him in a cave with a protective ogre, a village of Forest Men who are also freemen, and later, in a much more sophisticated city of freemen. His travels are driven by fear and a compulsion to locate his people, those who share his special powers and who can help him understand the visions.

Le Guin uses Gav to underscore the value of knowledge and perhaps as a protest to book banning and illiteracy. "What's freedom itself but the power of the mind to learn what it needs and think what it likes? Ah, even if your body's chained, if you have the thoughts of the philosophers and the words of the poets in your head, you can be free of your chains, and walk among the great!"

Themes of knowledge and passive resistance rather than violence dominate all three books in the Annals of the Western Shore series. Each society has been based upon one form of slavery or another. The words of the philosopher Caspro were formed in GIFTS and found again in VOICES and POWERS. "Belief in the lie is the life of the lie," and it was a long time before Gav could overcome the lie and find the strength of his power. POWERS is a much more subtle entry in the series, but young adult fans will enjoy meeting Gav as he wanders the road to self-awareness and finds his own place.

Reviewed by Patsy Side on October 18, 2011

by Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2007
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
  • ISBN-10: 0152057706
  • ISBN-13: 9780152057701