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Gifts    by Ursula K. Le Guin order for
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The story is set in 'the Uplands', an environment reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, except that the feuding clan lairds here are 'brantors', gifted with inherited powers, which they use, usually brutally, to ensure their domain's survival. The Caspromant gift is 'the power to undo, unmake, destroy'. Sixteen-year-old Orrec Caspromant and Gry Barre (whose gift is the calling of animals) are childhood friends, their families allied. As the story opens, we see a blind Orrec, and his father Canoc 'huddled over his pain, his longing for vengeance.' We're pulled into the story to find out how this came about.

Le Guin tells us that 'Stories are what death thinks he puts an end to. He can't understand that they end in him, but they don't end with him.' Two stories have been important in young Orrec's life. One tells how his father raided the Lowlands for a bride, and won merry, joyous Melle Aulitta (who tells wonderful stories of her own that the reader shares with Gry and Orrec). The other is the tale of 'Blind Caddard', the Caspromant ancestor who so misused his power that he put out his own eyes. Orrec's father explains how to 'undo' and watches keenly for signs that his son has grown into his talent, a strong, continuing pressure. But the day Orrec shows his power is not a happy one for the Caspromant heir, leading to conflict.

The Caspro and Drum lineages have long been at odds (the Drum gift allows them to inflict 'slow wasting' and death on others), and Drummant Brantor Ogge is a cruel, ambitious man. His invitation to the Caspromants for a visit to his House leads to great anguish for his guests. Events unfold full circle to the place where the reader entered the tale, when 'runaway man' Emmon told Orrec and Gry stories and asked questions, before he ran off with the silver. This Lowlander is the catalyst, whose presence changed their perspective on their own lives and allowed them to contemplate changes.

I've enjoyed everything that Ursula Le Guin has written, from her Earthsea Cycle to The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. I loved Gifts, a tale that teaches as it entertains - about the misuse of power; that great gifts come at a great price; that power over others feeds dark emotions; and that it's foolish and even damaging for parents to attempt to control their children's choices.

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