The Tomb of Atuan – Ursula K. Le Guin

The Earthsea Quartet continues with the story of a young girl, who at the age of five, is removed from her family to serve at a religious center, first as a novice and later as Priestess. She is called Arha, the eaten one. Her duty is a difficult one. She has an exulted position but the most dark and malevolent charge as priestess of the Nameless Ones.  The temple she serves is an underground tomb and the rituals include sacrifice of animal blood and prisoners.

The tomb holds many secrets and pitfalls, encompassed in a labyrinth and only accessible in darkness. A treasure in the tomb is half of the ring of Erreth-Akbe, which Ged searches for in order to steal.  The priestess and the thief gain a peculiar rapport which evolves to trust.

“The Tomb of Atuan” is the story of how Arha is raised in a community and comes to question that community and make independent choices. As in “A Wizard of Earthsea” the detail in Arha’s state of mind is moving and enticing – and transferable to the lives of the readers.

Ged, who was the main character of “A Wizard of Earthsea”, is older here than when the previous book ended. He was gained the kind of wisdom that comes with life experience. In “The Tomb of Atuan” Ged is more the pivotal influence that shocks Arha into action at the high arch of the story line.  

The past plays an important role in “The Tomb of Atuan”.  Arha was chosen as priestess, because she was born the every hour, the former priestess died.  That pre-destined context is part of Arha’s dilemma. She is special, but isolated in the extreme.  

I appreciate the years that pass between “A Wizard of Earthsea” and “The Tomb of Atuan”.  The two novels complement each other and fit into the same universe of Earthsea, but maintain their independence as novels. Perhaps this is the reason why “The Tomb of Atuan” is blissfully free of the book-in-the-middle-syndrome.

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