Ansul was once a peaceful town filled with libraries, schools, and temples. But that was long ago, and the conquerors of this coastal city consider reading and writing to be acts punishable by death. And they believe the Oracle House, where the last few undestroyed books are hidden, is seething with demons. But to seventeen-year-old Memer, the house is a refuge, a place of family and learning, ritual and memory--the only place where she feels truly safe.
Then an Uplands poet named Orrec and his wife, Gry, arrive, and everything in Memer's life begins to change. Will she and the people of Ansul at last be brave enough to rebel against their oppressors?
A haunting and gripping coming-of-age story set against a backdrop of violence, intolerance, and magic, Voices is a novel that readers will not soon forget.
About the Author
URSULA K. LE GUIN was born in Berkeley, California, in 1929, and passed away in Portland, Oregon, in 2018. She published over sixty books of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, children’s literature, and translation. She was the recipient of a National Book Award, six Hugo and five Nebula awards, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Date of Birth:October 21, 1929
Place of Birth:Berkeley, California
Education:B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952
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By Le Guin, Ursula K.
Harcourt Children's BooksCopyright © 2006 Le Guin, Ursula K.
All right reserved.
The first thing I can remember clearly is writing the way into the secret room.
I am so small I have to reach my arm up to make the signs in the right place on the wall of the corridor. The wall is coated with thick grey plaster, cracked and crumbling in places so the stone shows through. It's almost dark in the corridor. It smells of earth and age, and it's silent. But I'm not afraid; I'm never afraid there. I reach up and move my writing finger in the motions I know, in the right place, in the air, not quite touching the surface of the plaster. The door opens in the wall, and I go in.
The light in that room is clear and calm, falling from many small skylights of thick glass in the high ceiling. It's a very long room, with shelves down its wall, and books on the shelves. It's my room, and I've always known it. Ista and Sosta and Gudit don't. They don't even know it's there. They never come to these corridors far in the back of the house. I pass the Waylord's door to come here, but he's sick and lame and stays in his rooms. The secret room is my secret, the place where I can be alone, and not scolded and bothered, and not afraid.
The memory isn't of one time I went there, but many. I remember how big the reading table looked to me then, and how high the bookshelves were. I liked to getunder the table and build a kind of wall or shelter with some of the books. I pretended to be a bear cub in its den. I felt safe there. I always put the books back exactly where they belonged on the shelves; that was important. I stayed in the lighter part of the room, near the door that's not a door. I didn't like the farther end, where it grows dark and the ceiling comes down lower. In my mind I called that the shadow end, and I almost always stayed away from it. But even my fear of the shadow end was part of my secret, my kingdom of solitude. And it was mine alone, until one day when I was nine.
Sosta had been scolding me for some stupid thing that wasn't my fault, and when I was rude back to her she called me "sheep hair," which put me in a fury. I couldn't hit her because her arms were longer and she could hold me off, so I bit her hand. Then her mother, my bymother Ista, scolded me and cuffed me. Furious, I ran to the back part of the house, to the dark corridor, and opened the door and went into the secret room. I was going to stay there till Ista and Sosta thought I'd run away and been taken as a slave and was gone forever, and then they'd be sorry for scolding unjustly and cuffing and calling me names. I rushed into the secret room all hot and full of tears and rage-- and there, in the strange clear light of that place, stood the Waylord with a book in his hands.
He was startled, too. He came at me, fierce, his arm raised as if to strike. I stood like a stone. I could not breathe.
He stopped short. "Memer! How did you come here?"
He looked at the place where the door is when it's open, but of course nothing was there but the wall.
I still couldn't breathe or speak.
"I left it open," he said, without believing what he said.
I shook my head.
Finally I was able to whisper, "I know how."
His face was shocked and amazed, but after a while it changed, and he said, "Decalo."
My mother's name was Decalo Galva.
I want to tell of her, but I can't remember her. Or I do but the memory won't go into words. Being held tight, jostling, a good smell in the darkness of the bed, a rough red cloth, a voice which I can't hear but it's only just out of hearing. I used to think if I could hold still and listen hard enough, I'd hear her voice.
She was a Galva by blood and by house. She was head housekeeper for Sulter Galva, Waylord of Ansul, an honorable and responsible position. In Ansul there were no serfs or slaves then; we were citizens, householders, free people. My mother Decalo was in charge of all the people who worked in Galvamand. My bymother Ista, the cook, liked to tell us about how big the household used to be, back then, how many people Decalo had to look after. Ista herself had two kitchen assistants every day, and three helpers for the big dinners for visiting notables; there were four housecleaners, and the handyman, and a groom and stableboy for the horses, eight horses in the stable, some to ride and some to drive. There were quite a few relatives and old people living in the house. Ista's mother lived up over the kitchens, the Waylord's mother lived in the Master's rooms upstairs. The Waylord himself was always travelling up and down the Ansul Coast from town to town to meet with the other waylords, sometimes in the saddle, sometimes in a carriage with a retinue. There was a smithy in the west court in those days, and the driver and postboy lived on the top floor of the carriage house, always ready to go out with the Waylord on his rounds. "Oh it was all busy and abustle," Ista says. "The old days! The good days!"
When I ran through the silent corridors past the ruined rooms, I used to try to imagine those days, the good days. I used to pretend, when I swept the doorways, that I was making ready for guests who'd come through them wearing fine clothes and shoes. I used to go up to the Master's rooms and imagine how they'd looked clean and warm and furnished. I'd kneel in the windowseat there to look out through the clear, small-paned window over the roofs of the city to the mountain.
The name of my city and all the coast north of it, Ansul, means "Looking at Sul"-- the great mountain, last and highest of the five peaks of Manva, the land across the straits. From the seafront and from all the western windows of the city you can see white Sul above the water, and the clouds it gathers round it as if they were its dreams.
I knew the city had been called Ansul the Wise and Beautiful for its university and library, its towers and arcaded courts, its canals and arched bridges and the thousand little marble temples of the street-gods. But the Ansul of my childhood was a broken city of ruins, hunger, and fear. Ansul was a protectorate of Sundraman, but that great nation was busy fighting over its border with Loaman and kept no troops here to defend us. Though rich in goods and farmland, Ansul had long fought no wars. Our well-armed merchant fleet kept pirates from the south from harrying the coast, and since Sundraman enforced an alliance with us long ago, we had had no enemies by land. So when an army of Alds, the people of the deserts of Asudar, invaded us, they swept over the hills of Ansul like wildfire. Their army broke into the city and went through the streets murdering, looting, and raping. My mother Decalo, caught in the street coming from the market, was taken by soldiers and raped. Then the soldiers who had her were attacked by citizens, and in the fighting she managed to get away and get home to Galvamand.
Copyright 2006 by Ursula K. Le Guin
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A companion novel to Le Guin's GIFTS, VOICES looks in on the life of a teen growing up in a city controlled by an enemy people. Memer has never known a life when hostile soldiers didn't patrol the streets and the possession of a book was not a crime punishable by death. The invading army believes that written words are evil, and that the city of Ansul is full of demons. But Memer knows that the Waylord, the man who raised her after her mother's death, has a hidden library in his house. There, he teaches her to read, and then, to use her understanding to help the city face its greatest crisis.
For a novel that has a lot to do with story-telling and reading, VOICES has more action and excitement than readers might expect. The arrival of Orrec, a great storyteller (and the narrator of GIFTS), rekindles the courage of Ansul's people, and they attempt to rebel against their oppressors. Memer finds herself caught in the middle, torn between her loyalty to the Waylord, who wishes to find a peaceful solution, and her hatred for the soldiers who destroyed so many things that she treasured. With many twists and turns along the way, VOICES delivers a conclusion that is both satisfying and unpredictable.
Perhaps the strongest element of the novel, however, is the way it moves from black and white to shades of gray. Orrec believes that all people have some good in them, and as Memer is forced to get to know the invaders she despises, she realizes that they are not all terrible and cruel. Some of them are simply different, and unable to understand her way of life. The message seems to be that it is far better to reach an understanding with others, even if you dislike them, than to take revenge. In a time when cultural and religious clashes make news almost every day, this should hit home with many readers.
VOICES is not a perfect book. It slows down a little more than I'd have liked before reaching its conclusion, and Memer was not as active in those events as I expect from a main character. But those flaws are minor compared to everything else about the novel: the distinctive setting and culture, the vivid language and personalities, and a voice that suggests, softly, without preaching, that there is more than one way to win a war.
I didn't realise that this was a sequel. It didn't read like one. I loved the depth to this, ostensibly, children's novel. There is a deep message about peace and respect for religion that I found not at all intrusive or didactic, just entirely natural in the story.
I am never sure what to think of Le Guin's fantasy; I love Earthsea, but find myself in the odd position of agreeing with Le Guin's own criticisms of her fantasy world, but disliking how she addressed them in Tehanu and The Other Wind. So I was a little wary coming into this, her first young adult fantasy in some time.But Voices is truly excellent. It's beautifully written, it's engaging, it's clear-eyed and above all, it brings a woman to centre stage and shows off her strength. This is how I want to see the women in my fantasy novels - ordinary women with ordinary strength and courage, who are heroes because sometimes some people have to be.The novel is set in a standard fantasy world, in a city called Ansul, famous for its university and libraries and learning, until it was invaded by the Alds, a race of people who fear reading and writing, and destroy all books they come across. The last books in the city are in the care of its former ruler, the Waylord Sulter Galva, and the daughter of his house, Memer. And then a poet arrives, with his wife and their lion(!) and the rebellion begins. The first time I read it, I think I made the mistake of thinking this was a story about that rebellion, and being consequently disappointed by the pacing of it, and how the conflict mostly happens offstage. It made much more sense on the re-read, however, to read it as a coming-of-age story set against that heavy political backdrop, which gives it meaning, but doesn't take up the primary plot. And unlike poor, useless Tehanu, Memer Galva shines as a protagonist - it is her story, and her growing into her inheritance, that carry the novel, and she does it with aplomb. Le Guin fills it with lovely, unexpected grace notes: details, such as the fact, mentioned in passing, that the Waylord is not a typical fantasy-novel feudal lord - he's democratically elected - and Memer's own musings about how, in epic stories about wayfarers in troubled lands, the characters all find extra food for their visitors to eat with no trouble at all. It's the little touches that suggest a mature, practiced and very good writer.I am told that the poet, Orrec Caspro, has a novel of his own in this series, and that the other two, Powers and Gifts are also set in this world of the Western Shore - but having read neither of them, I still think this is a beautiful, flawless stand-alone piece, and definitely worth reading even if you don't happen to be in the young adult demographic.
I found this story more engaging than Gifts, possibly because it is longer and I had the time to slow down and really absorb the story.
a city under occupation must learn to live without books and becomes increasingly illiterate until special circumstances arise. I loved the portrayal of how learning to read empowers individuals and how the preservation of the written word can help a culuture survive oppression.
Inspired and intoxicating writing from Le Guin in this second book of the "Annals of the Western Shore" series. Memer is a young woman living in a city occupied for 17 years (her entire life) by a force of illiterate, book-hating warriors whom are now somewhat bored with the apparent pointlessness of their occupation. Gry and Orrec from the first book ("Gifts") appear in the city and are a catalyst to change. Deftly written on a number of levels, this is an extremely satifying and moving read.
Leguin is one of the best science fiction/fantasy authors in the genre's history and she demonstrates her skill in this YA series. Voices is the second of the Annals of the Western Shore saga, but works as a stand-alone volume. Here is a fantasy world where books are outlawed and are kept hidden from an oppressive ruling society. Le Guin, by making books a near-magical item, and by writing with near-magical prose demonstrates the power books can hold. Unlike other fantasy series such as Golden Compass and Tamora Pierce, the story is not bogged down by esoteric jargon. Fantasy fans and non-fans will be able to appreciate this.
I thought that the core of this story would be the hope represented by a growing understanding and friendship between Memer, daughter of an occupied people, and Simme, the son of the repressive Alds. It was more subtle than that, and Le Guin even manages to keep this story from settling into easy "reading good, illiteracy bad" themes.
Pretty good book. A little slow at times. Memer is a strong female character. It also examines war and how two warring people came come to a peaceful solution.
In Voices, LeGuin picks up the story of Orrec and Gry many years later. They have left their upland home and traveled to many far off places, collecting learning and lore. Orrec has found that his gift is not of unmaking, but of making and has created many stories and poems of his own and won renown as performer and scholar.In Voices, Orrec and his wife Gry travel to Ansul at the request of the Ald Gand, the ruler of that conquered land. Once there, Orrec hopes to gain access to the books of legend and learn from their pages. Unfortunately, in the invasion and the subsequent occupation, most books were destroyed. Those that were not are hidden away to protect them from the invading forces. Soon Orrec and Gry find themselves in the middle of a revolution against the Ald's with Memer, a young local woman who has taken them into her home and heart.Voices deals with hard issues in its fantasy theme, some of which parallel today's world. Memer is a young woman in an occupied country where the invaders think that women should be hidden and that women found in public are asking to be raped. In fact, that is how Memer came to be. During the initial invasion, Memer's mother was found out in the open and raped by a soldier. Memer is a half-cast, born of both invader and invaded, but it is easy to see where her loyalties lie. Foreign customs, censorship and limited freedoms remind one of what peoples in an occupied lands must experience.I recommend this book for ages 10 and up, based mostly on difficulty. While rape is mentioned, there are no details. This is an adventure of high order. Younger children might have a harder time getting through the first book to get to the second, but it is definitely worth the work. The book is set up perfectly to continue the story of Memer, Orrec and Gry, so expect a third book in this series.
Struggling to survive after war and destruction, keeping those she loves safe, and keeping secrets all her own, Memer finds Voices hidden in the words of books, long-forbidden by the desert-dwelling conquerors of her land. Her enemies know the one true god, while Memer's world is loved by many shapes and seasons of god. Mistrust and accidental misrule combine to lay the seeds of rebellion. But what are the weapons of a lover of words, and where does the poet Orrec fit in? Another coming-of-age tale set in Le Guin's wondrously imagined mystical world, Voices beautifully evokes that seeking for truth as childhood turns to adulthood. Disclosure: I bought it 'cause I had to keep reading.