Literature: Annals Of The Western Shore
"There is the courage of the sword, and the courage of the word, and the courage of the word is rarer." - Voices
The Annals of the Western Shore
is a trilogy by Ursula K. Le Guin
. It takes place in a fantasy setting that is otherwise unnamed and is unrelated to her Earthsea
books. The western shore is mostly a collection of city-states, apart from the mountainous Uplands and Carrantages, governed by republic or quasi-republic or plain oligarchy. Each book takes place in a different area.
Each book is a Coming of Age
story, told in first-person by a protagonist writing down the events from years later. Although there are three books in the series, it doesn't follow the typical Trilogy
format. Instead, each book is a standalone story with different places and characters of the common setting, narrated in first-person by its protagonist. As usual with Le Guin's work there isn't a great deal of action to speak of, focusing mainly on Character Development
as each character struggles to make sense of the world they live in.
A Central Theme
of the series is the power of stories and knowledge to inspire individuals and make connections between people, as well as the wish to be nonviolent in a violent world, and the destructiveness of violence. It is also a work of Feminist Fantasy
and explores the differences between men and women and how they behave and are treated in society.
- Gifts: Orrec and Gry, two children of Upland families, struggle with the magical gifts of their lineage and the gifts of others in the continual power struggle between families, while they themselves don't wish to use their powers the way their own families wish.
- Voices: Memer is a young woman in the occupied city of Ansul, desperate to have the oppressive Alds gone and studying the forbidden art of reading under the old Waylord. After seventeen years of subjugation, the people of Ansul are both weary and restive, and the arrival of a famous storyteller is a spark to both sides.
- Powers: Gavir is a young slave content with his lot in life until war and personal tragedy destroy his illusions of comfort and security, sending him on a long and painful trek through the lands of the western Shore.
Tropes present throughout:
- Comes Great Responsibility: One of the major themes in all three books is about the nature of power and how to use it.
- Coming of Age Story: Each protagonist is in their teenage years and crossing into adulthood.
- Does Not Like Magic: The people of the city-states, usually. The only people who have common and accepted magical powers are the Uplanders and Marsh People, both groups considered to be barbarians on the coast.
- Humans Are White: Averted as usual with le Guin. The only people who are explicitly white-skinned are the Alds of Asudar.
- Fantasy Pantheon: Most prominent in Voices. The god most invoked is Ennu, the guide to the afterlife and general guide and protector.
- Feminist Fantasy: The role and treatment of women in society is explored heavily, as well as the differences (and similarities) between the way men and women behave.
- Functional Magic: It's always Inherent Gift.
- Gold Silver Copper Standard: A variant with bronze as the lowest denomination of coin.
- Left-Justified Fantasy Map: Apart from Gifts, which doesn't take place anywhere near the ocean. Since it's the Western shore, it's to be expected.
Tropes by book:
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Tropes found in Gifts
- Animal Talk: The Barre gift of calling, practiced by Gry and her mother Parn. Gry can also perceive fetuses in utero, but it stops working once brain development reaches a certain point because the thoughts start getting too complex.
- Arranged Marriage: Standard practice to build alliances and ensure the next generation will carry the gift. Ogge deliberately insults Caspromant by offering a marriage with a mentally disabled niece.
- Ax-Crazy: Erroy Gere, whose power is called "twisting." It's as nasty as it sounds and he exercises it on cruel whim, but Canoc succesfully warned him off with a display of his own power.
- Bad Powers, Bad People: Generally averted, but certain gifts like the Geres' twisting or Drums' wasting are really hard to use benevolently. Gry suspects that these malevolent abilites are actually healing gifts that have been inverted.
- Blessed with Suck: Orrec's power is very strong and he can't control it, forcing him to go blindfolded. However, the rumor of his wayward powers means that nobody wants to offend Caspromant.
- Body Horror: Unmade people and animals are described as boneless sacks of flesh. Erroy's victims also count.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Orrec confronts his father just before the end on creating the false impression that Orrec has a wild gift. Canoc has a hard time admitting it, having convinced himself that it was Orrec who did those things.
- Coming of Age Story: For Orrec and Gry as they try to figure out what to do with their gifts when their society expects them to be used for one thing and they want to use them for the other.
- Definitely Just a Cold: Melle's strange illness, but it quickly progresses beyond her ability to try and power through it.
- The Dreaded: Orrec himself becomes this thanks to the story of Blind Caddard, who also went blindfolded as a young man due to a wild gift.
- Drunk on the Dark Side: The story of Blind Caddard ends with him turning his gift on anyone and anything that offended him even slightly until he went My God, What Have I Done? and unmade his eyes.
- Canine Companion: Coaly, the guide dog that Gry trains for Orrec. He keeps her even after he stops wearing the blindfold.
- Childhood Friend Romance: Between Orrec and Gry, even though their parents initially toss around prospective betrothals with others.
- Crusading Widower: It's only his responsibilities as brantor that keeps Canoc from this. Alloc confides that the household's greatest fear was that he would ride up to Drummant alone to take revenge.
- Deadly Gaze: How many of the lethal gifts work, including the Caspros'. They have a family legend of one who had to blindfold himself before he could control his power and then permanently blinded himself after he started killing his family.
- Fantastic Slur: "Calluc" for lowlanders. Melle is called such a few times; Orrec shocks himself when he uses the word to Emmon.
- Feuding Families: A frequent occurence between different domains. In some cases, like the Drums, feuds can happen within families.
- Flat Earth Atheist: Melle has a hard time fitting the gifts of the uplanders into her worldview.
- Friend to All Living Things: Gry's gift allows her to call animals to her. Usually it's used to call animals for hunting, but Gry won't use it for that.
- Gender Is No Object: Well, it might be some object, as there seems to be a division of labor by gender. But it's not a huge object; women can be brantors and Orrec is irritated when an outsider acts like it's odd. (They're certainly more egalitarian than the lowlands.)
- Gender-Restricted Ability: The gifts, although both sexes can pass on the lineage's gift to their children. For example, Animal Talk is had only by Barre women, and the unmaking only with Caspro men.
- The Gift:
- In case you couldn't guess by the title. The magical talents of Upland families are called gifts, but certain individuals are innately powerful in them—Alloc will never be as powerful as Canoc, and Blind Caddard was so good at unmaking that he had to go blindfolded as a child.
- In the end, Orrec discovers that his real gift is storytelling.
- Gossip Evolution: Tales of Orrec's wild Gift spread around the Uplands after he destroys a hillside.
- Happily Married: Canoc and Melle. Even though he went to kidnap a wife, Melle volunteered because it was better than her family's extremely restrictive views about women.
- Heroic BSOD: Orrec refers to the time after Melle's death as "the dark year" thanks to the deep and abiding unhappiness of himself and his father.
- In Medias Res: The book begins after Orrec's voluntary blinding and the death of his mother Melle Aulitta, then goes back to Orrec's early childhood, returns to the point he began the story, and goes on to the end.
- Loveable Rogue: Downplayed with Emmon. He's not loveable on his own merits, but Canoc tolerates him because the lowlander accent is a reminder of his wife. Orrec and Gry like his stories as well. Most everyone else is just stoic about the fact that he's a fugitive thief and don't make a fuss when he takes some spoons on the way out.
- Mixed Ancestry: Orrec is the son of a brantor and a lowlands woman. His mother's completely giftless heritage is speculated as a reason for Orrec's lack of gift.
- Mr. Exposition: Emmon the lowlander and his curiosity gives Orrec and Gry an excuse to explain what the titular gifts are and what they mean to Upland society.
- No Social Skills: Gry's mother Parn, gifted with Animal Talk, is said to border on this.
- Number Two: Alloc is Canoc's right hand in running Caspromant, though he doesn't consider himself smart and doesn't have a very strong gift.
- Origin Story: In a way this is one for Orrec and Gry, as the next book is set seventeen years after this one and Orrec becomes quite an influential figure by then.
- Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Canoc verses Ogge, which Orrec describes as a fencer (Canoc) fighting a man with a bludgeon (Ogge).
- Power Incontinence: Orrec's wild gift. After a scare where he thought he killed his father, he blindfolds himself. Much later, he realizes that it was a sham pulled by his father to give him a fearsome reputation.
- Pyrrhic Victory: In the end, Canoc kills Ogge through unmaking, but he's killed himself by a Drum crossbowman. And with Orrec unable to use the gift, it's implied that Caspromant will become a part of Roddmant, at least for the time being.
- Missing Mom: Orrec tells us early in the book that his mother is recently dead, but we don't find out how or why until much later.
- Moral Myopia: Ogge Drum. He steals two of Caspromant's valuable white cows and is subtly but incontrivertably called on it by Canoc. A year later, Ogge attacks Caspromant claiming that they stole them.
- Mundane Utility: Gry's father has the gift of the knife, so named because it can cut flesh. He uses it to painlessly remove splinters.
- The Quiet One: Gry, who is comfortable in silence.
- The Reveal: Orrec realizes near the end that he has no gift at all. His father manipulated him into thinking he did so he could use the reputation of a new Blind Caddard as a weapon.
- Royal Inbreeding: Although they're not royal, strictly speaking, it's common for gifted individuals to marry cousins so the lineage remains strong.
- Sacred Hospitality: To some extent. Guests are supposed to be offered work to do because Uplands culture abhors feeling useless, and it can be very unwise to refuse an invitation, along with the usual rules about not harming your guests.
- Soap Opera Disease: Justified, as it's the Drum gift. The victim doesn't have any symptoms except a gradually increasing weakness and wasting, to the point where even a light touch can mean broken bones. It's the fate of Orrec's mother.
- She Is the King: Played with. Most brantors are male, but it's a unisex title. Orrec and Gry find it ridiculous when a lowlander calls Parn a "lady-brantor."
- The Storyteller: Orrec eventually becomes this from reading all the stories his mother wrote for him and develops a talent for poetry as well. Emmon advises him that such a skill is highly valued in the lowlands.
- Walking the Earth: Orrec and Gry decide to do this in the end, feeling they have no place in Upland society anymore.
- Walking Wasteland: What Orrec fears he will be if he ever removes his blindfold. He won't, because he has no gift.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Orrec. As a young boy, he enjoyed obeying his father, but as his gift continued not to show up they both became very worried. Made worse by the fact that a brantor has to have the gift to inherit the position.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Invoked. One of the first thing Orrec tells us is that Emmon left to find the greater domains of the Carrantages and they can only hope that he didn't fatally offend any of their brantors.
- With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Most brantors adhere to this with the principle of "the gift's gift". When Canoc raids a lowland town to find a wife, he leaves them some mules in exchange (which to an uplander like him is a significant gift).
Tropes found in Voices
Tropes found in Powers
- Action Survivor: Gav never fights and spends a lot of the book fleeing from one place to another, surviving in spite of the odds against him. He attributes this to the God of Luck.
- Ancient Grome: Etra and its neighbors have this flavor. There are city-states, Senators, the ability to appoint a Dictator in emergencies, and a Pater Familias ethic, along with the slaves and restrictive roles for women common to both cultures.
- Bastard Bastard: Hoby, who is the son of Altan Arca and his personal slave and thus a slave himself. He's mean, resentful, and violent, and later participates in the rape of Sallo and Ris, and Sallo's drowning.
- So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Sotur certainly comes to believe this during the siege and tells Sallo to become ugly like she did. Irad is also subject to this.
- Berserk Button: Falling for a girl that Barna has claimed, despite how many he has claimed. Also, challenging his authority. He's maimed and killed men over both and Gav has to flee for his life when Barna turns on him for looking at Irad too long.
- Big Brother Instinct: Gav soon starts to feel protective of Melle, Irad's little sister.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Barna. He appears to be a jovial, charitable man of vision, but he's quick to fly into a killing rage and mistreats women horribly.
- Broken Bird:
- Sotur after the war with Casicar. She's hit hard physically from the malnutrition and becomes very cynical and disgusted with the forthcoming Cycle of Vengeance, still maintaining the weary "siege face".
- Irad. She went from an abused slave to sex toy for Barna, who beats her when she resists him. Her ultimate fate after Barna's death is unstated, but probably horrible whether she lived or died.
- Broken Pedestal:
- Learning of Father Altan's hatred for Yaven and Torm going unpunished for Sallo's death tumbles the pedestal that Gav has put the Family on all his life, especially when he later realizes that the Mother (whom he'd always believed to be all-wise and all-just) must have been complicit.
- The Barnavites in the Heart of the Forest. Although they style themselves as a free man's paradise, Barna rules them as surely as any other master, and they abduct women as sex slaves.
- The seer speaker of South Shore, who makes himself out as a wise master teaching Gav, but who is really only interested in regaining his prestige. And while he claims his first seer died of shellfish poisoning, Ambamer says that he was killed through the speaker making him overuse the drugs.
- The Bully: Hoby, the Father's bastard son, takes a special dislike to Gav that turns into full-blown hatred when Gav accidentally hits him with a rock while playing soldiers. He gets Gav shunned by other slaves and abuses him at every opportunity. It's finally stopped when he and his gang nearly drown Gav in a well, and the Family sends Hoby to be a civic slave. (Until Torm buys him back as a bodyguard.)
- Call Back: Chamry, one of the Barnavites, used to be a serf on Drummant. He doesn't name the place, but his account of the brantor's power of "wasting" makes it clear.
- Desperately Seeking A Purpose In Life: Gav, once he leaves Arcamand, tries to find places where a house slave with eidetic memory of stories can be both useful and wanted. He eventually reaches the free city of Urdile, where Orrec and Gry take him and Melle in.
- Category Traitor: Even for Arcamand's slaves, "Master's pet" is a deadly insult, and Gav suffers a lot when Hoby sticks the name to him.
- Disney Villain Death: Hoby apparently drowns when chasing Gav and Melle across a river.
- Fantastic Drug: Eda, taken by the seers of the marshes. It's incredibly toxic and most only use it in desperation.
- Fantastic Honorifics: Etran slaves append di or io to names of the male and female members of their owning Family, and it's seen as a general honorific later.
- Fatal Flaw: Gav is very quick to trust. When he becomes aware of it, he tries to stop doing it, but it's really hard.
- Everybody's Dead, Dave: After leaving the Marsh People, Gav returns to the Heart of the Forest to find Barna's city burned to the ground, having been invaded by the neighboring city-states to replenish their slave population. All but a few are dead or taken.
- Gender Scoff: Quite a bit, usually men against women; for instance the Marsh men disdain women's storytelling and women seers. Gav's aunt scoffs against both genders.
- Happiness in Slavery: Gavir and most of the other slaves in Arcamand are completely loyal to the Family, since the Arcas take a point of pride in treating their slaves well.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Torm Arca, the family's younger son. From the way it's described as coming on in "fits", it seems to be some kind of psychological disorder.
- The Hermit: Cuga, who mistakes a wandering Gav for a thief and hits him with a stick, then nurses him back to health over a summer before sending him onto the forest.
- Heroic BSOD: Gav shuts down completely after Sallo is killed by Torm and his friends. He says that the only reason he didn't walk into the river, as he thinks the people of Arcamand assume, is because he was too numb to think of it.
- It's All My Fault: Gav's aunt, Ambamer, blames herself for never being able to find out what happened to Gav's mother and children.
- Karma Houdini: Gavir protests that Torm being sent to boot camp for killing Miv is an Unishment, as Torm dreams of being a soldier. Though he's told that discipline will be much harsher than any of Torm's games, the question of the Father favoring Torm returns later after Torm and his friends steal Sallo and a virgin gift-girl and end up killing Sallo. This time, nobody can provide a good explanation to Gav.
- Legendary in the Sequel: Orrec and his poem "Liberty" figure into things again, unsurprisingly for a book with many runaway slaves in it.
- My Sister Is Off Limits: Irad is resigned to being used by Barna's men, but she pulls a knife as soon as they try to keep her away from her little sister Melle.
- New Media Are Evil: Invoked with Everra, who refuses to read anything written in the last hundred years. When Gav finally reads a few and questions how the new works could corrupt when they're so beautiful, this is how Everra answers:
"Discontent. Noble words to teach you how to be unhappy. Such poets refuse the gifts of the Ancstors. Their work is a bottomless pit. Once you remove the firm foundation of belief on which all our lives our built, there is nothing. Only words! Gorgeous, empty words. [...] He teaches nothing but rebellion against what must be—refusal of truth."
- Non-Action Guy: Gavir. The most fighting he does is playing soldiers with other children in Arcamand.
- No Woman's Land: Although Gavir is a boy, a lot of the book is about how hard and dangerous it is for women to live on the Western Shore, since even men who see themselves as freedom fighters consider them objects or animals.
- Off with His Head!: When the neighboring city-states invade Barna's city, they cut off his head and kick it around like a ball.
- Oh Crap: Gav's reaction when he learns from tavern gossip that Hoby has been stalking him for goodness knows how long now and getting closer.
- One Steve Limit: Averted. Irad's little sister Melle shares her name with Orrec's mother, Gav meets another Sallo when he reaches the marshes, and Melle randomly picks the name "Miv" when she has to pose as a boy.
- OOC Is Serious Business: When sweet, kind, endlessly charitable Sallo accuses the Father of being jealous of Yaven and wanting him dead, Gav is shocked into total silence by the hatred in her voice.
- Photographic Memory: Gav has an uncanny ability to remember, which comes in handy for winning people over by stories.
- Pinball Protagonist: Gav spends most of the book being forced out of his circumstances and reacting to what other people do or say.
- Rebel Leader: Barna often fantasizes about leading a massive slave revolt, but it seems to be more a distant fantasy since his "plans" aren't known by most of the Barnavites. And it all ends when the city is leveled.
- Sacrificial Lamb: Four-year-old Miv is killed by a head injury when Torm strikes him to the ground, illustrating how dangerous Torm is.
- Seer: Gav has precognative abilities that he keeps secret. Among the things he sees are a snowfall, the Casicar invasion, and the funerals of Miv and his sister Sallo. Such powers are common among his original people, the Marsh folk.
- Sex Slave:
- Most of the slave girls that Gav knows, including his sister, are destined to be "gift-girls" for the silk rooms. Curiously, this still overlaps with Happiness in Slavery for Sallo, since she and Yaven are genuinely in love and he treats her kindly. But it's certainly not true for all gift-girls, and Sallo's status still makes her vulnerable to Torm.
- Barna's girls aren't in much better position than the girls in the silk rooms. They're friendly and flirty, but Barna's men steal them the same way they do sheep and cattle and treat them with as much respect.
- Stranger in a Familiar Land: Gav eventually makes his way to the Marsh People and reunites with his mother's family, but as he's a scholar and they explicitly don't tell stories except on sacred occasions, he feels out of place and leaves.
- Stuffed into the Fridge: Gav wonders if Torm killed Sallo just to hurt Yaven.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Sallo, abused and drowned by Torm and his friends. The whole household mourns her death and say that she was one of the sweetest people they ever knew.
- Trauma-Induced Amnesia: As a result of Heroic BSOD, starving, and being whacked on the head by a hermit, Gav locks all his memories of Arcamand behind a "wall". He can still remember stories when his new companions ask for them, but his mind keeps him from fully remembering until Derio asks him about it.
- The Unfavorite: Yaven to Father Altan Arca, which is bad since Yaven is far and away the better of his two sons.
- Uriah Gambit: Sallo says that Altan Arca is sending Yaven, his heir, to the front lines in hopes that he'll die in battle, so that he can groom Torm—who is more like Altan—to be his successor.
- War Is Hell: The siege of Etra by Casicar is a long, hard affair. The only people who escape deprivation and starvation are the priests, who have their own private food supply.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out if Yaven did live through the wars or anything else about Arcamand after Gav leaves. All we know for sure is that Hoby is still around.
- Women Are Wiser: Gav speculates on this when war takes hold of Etra as it's usually men who declare war, but he also notes that women get swept up in the War Is Glorious attitude themselves. His aunt, Ambamer, disgustedly says that both sexes are fools.