This is a strange book to me because on the one hand I know that, while it’s not entirely a new foray into a newish genre, it’s something of an early effort for Ursula K Le Guin, but it’s not a profound extension of the genre, and in fact, it’s even a solidly good novel. It’s good, and it’s fine.
But it’s also an oddly out of balance book. It’s short. It feels short when you look at it and hold it, but it also feels and is written like it wants to be long. Here’s what I mean. On the one hand, its pacing is that of a short novel with little detail or little elements–think like a Penric novella from Lois McMaster Bujold–but the amount of novel in this novel in terms of plot is overloaded for its length. So the effect is that it feels like a 500 page novel in the body of a 200 page novel. So the effect of this is a fairly rich narration of a variety of different events in the novel, but there’s huge amount of world-building and middle sections that feel rushed through. We are meant to take the whole of magic knowledge sort of on hearsay and not with a sense of work put into it or a system of logic. It’s nothing new to use the “name” of a thing to be the source of magic, but it feels elementary here. In addition, the world of magic seems so linear….you’re good or you’re not….there’s no limits to be reached or there’s no specializations….it’s just a straight path.