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The year Memer was born, the beautiful and peaceful University town of Ansul fell under the control of a fierce religious group that feared the demons of truth and knowledge associated with the written word. Priests who orchestrated this fear ordered all books to be destroyed, and possession of any by Ansul residents became punishable by death. The intolerance by monotheistic Alds of all aspects of the polytheistic Ansul's culture forms the premise of this thoughtful novel from Ursula K. Le Guin, the second installment in her Annals of the Western Shore series.

Books were destroyed. Gender equality was forbidden. Learning was punishable by death. Freedom to worship was unacceptable; there was only one god and this was the Alds' god. The Alds overthrew Ansul's government and has occupied the town for 17 years.

VOICES is a coming-of-age story for 17-year-old Memer but is much more. The novel introduces readers to the people of Ansul, their appreciation for education, peace, equality and love of learning. Memer is first met as a young child exploring a library room open only to her and her mentor, the Waylord of Ansul. The room's contraband, a collection of the last remaining books, is hidden from all but Memer and the Waylord. They protect the small library with the hopes of preserving it until a future time when the people of Ansul once again have the freedom to read books in public.

Under the occupation of this foreign power, women fear being seen in public without the company of a man. When caught they could be raped or taken into slavery. The deplorable conditions hint at a previously glorious period. Memer lived in a house that was elegant but is now dilapidated. She moved through her day reading in the magic hidden library, quietly tending the household shrines and running errands while disguised as a boy. It was while buying household supplies 10 years later that her life and the future of Ansul changed.

The great storyteller and poet Orrec and his animal-tamer wife Gry visit Ansul accompanied by the mystical lion Shetar and two majestic horses. The Gand (head of the occupying forces) has invited them, even though he fears books. Memer attempts to listen, but while fate and crowds prevent her from truly hearing the storyteller, it places her directly in the path of Orrec and Gry. They were destined to meet Memer and the Waylord.

VOICES contains numerous thought-provoking parallels to current political events and subsumes multiple themes. Book banning at first seems to be the overarching theme, but in fact it's merely a symptom of the greater condition --- oppression. The Alds' priests tell them what to fear, including knowledge and reading. Memer becomes a voice of knowledge and reading for Ansul, while the great voice of Orrec channels the power of story. VOICES exposes the hungers of the occupying forces, the hunger for home and family, knowledge and story. It demonstrates the powers of peace and cooperation, but it also allows for consideration of the question of defiance and when rebellion is appropriate.

Ursula K. Le Guin has written a simple yet intelligent work of fiction for young adults. While based on events and some characters from GIFTS, her first book in the Annals of the Western Shore, she slowly introduces a complex and riveting novel for interpretation. Silent heroes, subtle magic, strong characters, leaders, friendships and a battle of good and evil encourage readers to consider their own thoughtful solutions. Books must neither be banned nor censored, and the rights to read and think independently should be encouraged. VOICES is destined to become a classic.

Reviewed by Patsy Side on September 1, 2006

by Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2008
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Graphia
  • ISBN-10: 0152062424
  • ISBN-13: 9780152062422