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The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

(Earthsea Cycle #2), 1970. (cw: confinement; some death)

This book has a gigantic, underground maze! What else do you want?

When I read A Wizard of Earthsea earlier this year I thought it was a fun fantasy book, but also showed a lot of its age. Though groundbreaking for its time (a school for wizards!) and radical in a subtle way, it wasn’t exactly feminist.

But Tombs. Oh, gosh. What a moody, beautiful book. Where Ged’s character frustrated me, Tenar’s was brilliant, tragic, and sympathetic. This moment stands out:

“Now,” he said, “now we’re away, now we’re clear, we’re clean gone, Tenar. Do you feel it?”

She did feel it. A dark hand had let go its lifelong hold upon her heart. But she did not feel joy, as she had in the mountains. She put her head down in her arms and cried, and her cheeks were salt and wet. She cried for the waste of her years in bondage to a useless evil. She wept in pain, because she was free.

What she had begun to learn was the weight of liberty. Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward toward the light; but the laden traveler may never reach the end of it.

Tenar has rejected the identity assigned to her at birth, the only one she knew, the thing that everyone told her she was. She rejected it and now faces the work of finding herself. That resonates.