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Gifts [Hardcover]

Ursula K. Le Guin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

April 1 2006 Annals of the Western Shore
Orrec is the son of the Brantor of Caspromant; Gry the daughter of the Brantors of Barre and Rodd. They have grown up together in neighbouring domains, running half-wild across the Uplands. The people of the domains are like their land: harsh and fierce and prideful; ever at war with each other, raiding cattle, capturing serfs, enlarging their holdings. It is only the gifts that keep a fragile peace. The gifts are powers, running from father to son and from mother to daughter. The Barre gift is calling animals. The women of Cordemant have the power of blinding, or making deaf, or taking away speech. The Rodds can send a spellknife into a man's heart, or cut his throat, or maim as they please, if he's in sight. The Callems can move heavy things by word and gesture - even buildings, even hills. And Brantor Ogge of Drummant has the gift of slow wasting. The Caspro gift is the worst and best of all: it is the gift of undoing: an insect, an animal, a place ...Orrec and Gry are the heirs to Caspro and Barre. Gry's gift runs true, but unlike her mother, she will not use it to call animals for the hunt. Orrec too is a problem, for his gift of undoing is wild: he cannot control it - and that is the most dangerous gift of all ...GIFTS is Ursula Le Guin at her best: an exciting, moving story beautifully told.
--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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From School Library Journal

Grade 7 Up–In this well-realized fantasy, the people of the Uplands have unusual and potentially dangerous abilities that can involve the killing or maiming of others. Gry can communicate with animals, but she refuses to use her gift to call creatures to the hunt, a stance her mother doesn't understand. The males in Orrec's line have the power of unmaking–or destroying–other living things. However, because his mother is a Lowlander, there is concern that this ability will not run true to him. When his gift finally manifests itself, it seems to be uncontrollable. His father blindfolds him so that he will not mistakenly hurt someone, and everyone fears him. Meanwhile, Ogge Drum, a greedy and cruel landowner, causes heartache for Orrec and his family. There is a strong sense of foreboding throughout the novel. The characters, who are well rounded and believable, often fail to understand the extent of the responsibility that comes with great power. In the end, Gry and Orrec come to recognize the true nature of their gifts and how best to use them. Readers can enjoy this story as a suspenseful struggle between good and evil, or they can delve deeper and come away with a better understanding of the choices that all individuals must make if they are to realize their full potential. An excellent choice for discussion and contemplation.–Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Gr. 6-10. Gifts, in the context of Le Guin's newest novel, inspire fear more often than gratitude. But this book is a gift in the purest sense, as the renowned fantasist's admirers have waited 14 years since the release of Tehanu (1990) for another full-length young adult novel. Providing an intriguing counterpoint to the epic third-person voice of Le Guin's Earthsea novels, this quieter, more intimate tale is narrated by its central character, Orrec. Born into a feud-riven community where the balance of power depends on inherited, extrasensory "gifts," Orrec's gift of Unmaking (which is wielded at a glance and is as fearsome as it sounds) manifests late and strangely, forcing him to don a blindfold to protect those he loves from his dire abilities. The blindfold becomes a source of escalating tension between Orrec and his stern father, and its eventual removal serves as a powerful metaphor for the transition from dependent youngster to self-possessed, questioning young adult. Although intriguing as a coming-of-age allegory, Orrec's story is also rich in the earthy magic and intelligent plot twists that made the Earthsea novels classics. One would expect nothing less from the author whose contributions to literature have earned her a World Fantasy Award, a Nebula Award, and, most recently, a Margaret Edwards Award for lifetime achievement. Jennifer Mattson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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He was lost when he came to us, and I fear the silver spoons he stole from us didn't save him when he ran away and went up into the high domains. Read the first page
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courtesy of Teens Read Too Aug. 25 2007
Format:Paperback
In Ursula K. Le Guin's GIFTS, the gifts in question bring more trouble than happiness to the novel's main character, sixteen-year-old Orrec. Orrec lives in the Uplands, a rough landscape where small clans squabble amongst themselves to maintain their land holdings and cattle herds. The leader of each clan has a specific gift: a mystical power that allows them to call animals or twist human bodies with the force of their mind. Orrec is the next in line to lead his clan, and his family's gift is one of the most terrible: the undoing. His father can kill a man with a word and a gesture, and it is expected that Orrec will come into the same power. However, when Orrec's power arrives, it is wild and uncontrollable, and he must stay blind-folded to avoid harming those he loves.

The best thing about this outstanding novel is its premise. Everyone has wished at one time or another for a secret power. GIFTS forces the question: what if your having such a gift caused harm to the people around you? It gives no easy answers, exploring the issue with depth and feeling. The society and culture of the Uplanders is detailed and realistic, making the conflicts that much more powerful. Readers will quickly feel as though they've lived in this wonderful and terrifying world themselves.

As narrator, Orrec is thoughtful and questioning, with a rhythmic voice that recalls traditional story-tellers. He handles the tragedies and disappointments in his life with honesty and good humor. Despite being from a somewhat alien world, his view is very human and teens will find it easy to see through his eyes. When he is finally able to face the most disappointing truth of all, readers will cheer even as they share his pain.

GIFTS is an excellent read for teens of all interests.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  56 reviews
56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leguin's usual mastery of story and style May 5 2005
By B. Capossere - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There are lots of reasons to like a good LeGuin novel--her spare prose, her sharpness of description, her ease of storytelling, but in simple terms, when LeGuin writes well (nearly always), it boils down to the fact that reading becomes bare unadorned pleasure. Pleasure at its purest and simplest. And that is the gift of this newest book.
The backstory is pretty simple--families living in the Uplands have hereditary magical abilities or "gifts" (one type to a family) that can and usually are employed to harm: gifts of "unmaking" (killing/destroying), of "calling" (calling animals--used to call them to be killed), of "twisting" (maiming things and people), of "wasting" (cursing with a slowly fatal illness). The clans feud back and forth over land, cattle, etc. yet must also stay on terms to keep interbreeding as the gifts are strongest when bred true through the family. The description of the clans reminded me of old Celtic tales of cattle-thieving etc. Fans of Irish/Scottish old tales of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series might see some similarities).
Into this world come two youths raised as friends since childhood. Orrec's family has the gift of unmaking (using the eyes and hands) and there is a lot of pressure on him early when his gift takes its time to manifest itself, possibly because his mother is an ungifted "lowlander" who left the lowlands to wed his father after a raid. When his gift does appear, it seems to be "wild", uncontrollable and a danger to those around him. At his own urging, Orrec is blindfolded to protect those he loves. Along with its personal impact, this also has larger ripples: on his budding romance with his childhood friend Gry, on his relationship with his mother and father, on his family's relationship with a bordering family whose aggressively greedy leader, Ogge Drum, threatens both Gry and Orrec's homes.
Gry, meanwhile, who has the talent to call animals, has decided she has no desire to do so if it simply leads to their death. She refuses to join the hunts and calls into question the whole underlying theory and application of the gifts.
This is a slim story, yet works on many levels. The simple plot is effectively suspenseful and well-paced: will Orrec remain blindfolded, will he and Gry marry, will Gry be forced to use her talent, will they withstand Ogge Drum, etc. The deeper stories are even more effective. The relationships between two adolescents and their parents as they try to find their own way, their own identities. The changing relationship between the two of them as they shift from friends to perhaps more, from powerless to powerful, from passive to active, from adolescent to adult. The larger issues of power and restraint. None of these are handled in ham-handed fashion; all of them are subtly and nicely interwoven to add pleasure and complexity.
The style is typical LeGuin. Spare, poetic, vivid. There isn't a word out of place and she makes five words do what most need fifteen for. Some current authors of those bloated epic fantasy tomes could take some lessons here that sometimes less really is more.
Characters are three-dimensional, complex, sharply depicted. And there is an ease to the whole tale that is signature LeGuin, a born storyteller. Her narrator, Orrec, is himself a lover of tales (one of the more tragic effects of his blinding is his loss of the books his mother made him) as well as, he comes to learn, a teller of them.
And finally, the culture itself is clearly laid out (despite not spending three hundred pages on "world-building") in logical, understandable fashion with a true sense of authenticity.
Normally at this point I'd spend at least a few lines on the few minor flaws that were overcome by a book's larger strengths (if I liked the book). But to be honest, I really would have to strain to come up with even some minor flaws. I'm not sure I'd come up with any even then.
Highly, highly recommended. It's the sort of book one wishes there were more of and that more writers, especially in this genre of fantasy (as overarching a genre as that is) would emulate.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good book!!! Jan. 10 2005
A Kid's Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I recently finished reading Gifts, and I have to admit it totally took me by surprise. My mom gave me the book, and it looked sort of...weird. But once it gets into the story, it's completely awesome! It's really interesting and complex, and I love how at the end it all comes together. It totally turns around at the end of the book. Gifts is one of the best books I've ever read! I can't even begin to explain how good it is. It should be the law to have to read it :-P
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful fantasy Jan. 28 2005
By Peter Hentges - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Le Guin brings us, in this finely-crafted novel, another story that is superficially aimed at younger readers and yet holds great depths for readers of all ages. As with her Earthsea novels, Le Guin layers the story with meaning that a young reader may overlook without losing any enjoyment and that only adds to the reader's enjoyment when he or she is ready for the more complex themes.

Le Guin's anthropological background shines in this story as well. The setting has echoes of Scotland, but the fabric of the fantasy setting is woven so tightly that you never truly see our world through it. The culture the characters live in is fully realized and the actions of the characters within the setting reflect this. These are not modern people in fancy dress, strutting through some generic fantasy world; they live and breath on the pages, acting in ways that are wholly consistant with their imagined background. The result is a novel that is so envoloping that you quickly get lost in it. Read the exerpt here on amazon.com and then curse me, for you will be wanting to turn to the next page at the end of it and will end up paying for overnight shipping just so you can continue the story as soon as possible.

In addition to enjoying the story, I marvelled at the craft of this novel. The way the story is bookended by chapters that bring the story full-circle is beautiful in its elegance. Le Guin's careful revelations through the course of the plot show her mastery of pacing and presentation.

In summary, we are fortunate to have a living master of her art and craft like Le Guin turning out novels of this quality. At a time when fantasy seems to be measured more by bulk than quality, it is refreshing to read a novel in which every word is vital to the story. Take the opportunity to read a story told by someone in the full maturity of their talent and buy this book today.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful Nov. 2 2005
By Yoshimura - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I finished 'Gifts' in about a day flat. It was wonderful.

I love reading LeGuin because she really understands the human condition and her characters, even in short stories, are always three-dimensional, fully-realized, living, breathing people. Her imagination is overflowing and you can sense the love she's put into imagining all the details of each world she creates, its customs and folkways, religion, language, history, dress; everything is there.

But more than that, where she really shines is in showing us the beauty and pain of our relationships with each other. The small kindness that breaks the heart, the well-meaning betrayal, the yearning to understand another, the void of loneliness, and the quiet strength of the spirit. Everything that is good and true about people, she captures.

I can recommend this to everyone. It's very quiet and slow-moving and understated but it's the stuff of true poetry; beautiful, tragic, but ultimately hopeful.

I also highly recommend her short story 'A Fisherman of the Inland Sea'. It's probably the best love story I've ever read.

A+
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, Poetic, and Thought-Provoking Nov. 10 2004
By Lawrence E. Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A young girl with a powerful gift over animals that she chooses not to use. A young man on the verge of manhood, troubled by societal and familial expectations, blindfolded for years to prevent his wild gift from causing disaster. A society that places its focus on riches of the mind rather than those of the pocketbook, where bloodline determines destiny...

Another brilliant, poetic, thought-provoking story from Ms. LeGuin. In her inimitable way, she postulates one small change to accepted reality--in this case, the premise that a remote and inbred population of hunters, herders, and farmers might possess a variety of inheritable psychic gifts that range from the benign to the terrifying--and creates a plausible society, one which has immediate and profound resonance with our own. A classically-structured tale of self-discovery and self-validation from a true master of the genre of speculative fiction.
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