Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


A novel by Usula Le Guin
(1980, Tor Books)

A troubled young man finds refuge in a place beyond time, where he meets a young woman who has been hiding from the world, and together they destroy a creature that has been threatening the small community beyond the magical gate.


-- First reading (ebook)
February 14th to 26th, 2021


From the first page, I knew this was going to be a difficult book to read. Huge, run-on sentences, very few paragraph breaks made this a tough read even without the content. Unfortunately, the content, from characters to the world and situations, were so boring that I had little interest in returning to the world. While it’s important to note that neither character belonged in the real world, we spend way too much time with them in our world, with their mundane problems and dysfunctional families. I can’t say I felt anything for either character, nor for the plight of the world they entered through the magical gate. The conflict with the creature was anti-climactic and boring, and the relationship they developed afterwards was perplexing. But by that time, I was way beyond caring, only hoping to get away from this story as quickly as possible. The only part of the story that I can say rose above the rest was the peace he encountered on his first visits to the river, but that’s stretching my ability to find something nice to say about this book.

Spoiler review:

Not my kind of book. There isn’t much to spoil here, because nothing actually happens. The thoughts that run through the boy’s head may be realistic, but not something I want to read about. His home life shows why he wants to get away, but he’s stuck in a rut, and his mother doesn’t help. The people at the supermarket where he works seem okay. One night, he just can’t handle the situation at home, and leaves, running like Forrest Gump, only he ends up at a river that seems to be stuck at twilight. The first chapter goes on and on in a rush that almost doesn’t end. Subsequent chapters don’t get any better.

There was a very brief moment where he spends time at the river, which was relaxing and he even calms his thoughts for a while. It was the only quiet moment in the whole story, and the only part was wasn’t remotely boring. The rest of the story didn’t hold my interest at all.

The book is very difficult to read, both because of the perspective, and the writing style. I can’t stress enough how hard this book is to read. I thought, based on reviews when I considered putting it down for good, that there would be a convincing romance by the end, but it doesn’t happen. The girl, Irena, is jealous and self-absorbed (like the main male character, except that she’s acerbic where he’s clueless). She found this magical land first, and often spends time there, learning the language and getting to know the people. She even loves one of them, though he is probably clueless about her feelings.

The problem is that every time she goes back, the magical land is deteriorating. This seems strange because it goes so fast, as if months or years have passed between visits, where time almost stands still while they are there. The boy even spends the night near the river and only misses a couple of hours in our world. The reason for the deterioration seems to be some sort of magical creature that is preventing the king and his envoys from coming to the village, and the villagers can’t go beyond their village. It’s never explained why, and the story doesn’t even care. They send the boy and girl up the mountain to kill the creature, which he does easily, and they fall in love, make love, and manage to leave the fantasy land.

There is no follow-up, no promise to come back, to even see if the villages are okay. The entire story was disappointing, but the ending was doubly so. I was so happy to see the end of the book.


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