The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Series #2)

The Tombs of Atuan - Ursula K. Le Guin This is the second book in the Earthsea Cycle. Plot-wise it's not as good as A Wizard of Earthsea, but the writing is better. It has such wonderful fluidity that I read the entire book in just a few hours. For that I can give it four stars, though the story lacks the magic and adventure of the first book. Tenar is taken from her family at the age of five and given to "the Dark Ones" (aka "the Nameless Ones") at the age of six. The belief is that they eat her soul, and thereafter she belongs to them and is nameless. She is no longer Tenar but Arha "the eaten one," First Priestess of the Nameless Ones. As with any religion, Arha is brainwashed into believing these gods must be feared and placated, without proof of their existence. When she encounters the concept of "unfaith," it is a surprise and a wonder to her.Arha spends her youth mostly in solitude and mostly underground, in the Undertomb and the Labyrinth. No light is allowed in the Undertomb, and no males except eunuchs may enter. One day Arha sees a light in the Undertomb and discovers, GASP!, a man walking around down there. As First Priestess, it is her duty to have him killed for violating that space. But, mirabile dictu, she begins to think for herself. She wonders why the gods she serves have not unleashed their wrath upon the man with the light. She has always been taught that disaster will follow if light is brought into the Undertomb.Arha traps the man underground and amuses herself by spying on him while she decides what to do. The man turns out to be Ged/Sparrowhawk the wizard. He has come to the Tombs of Atuan seeking part of a Lost Rune which will bring peace to Earthsea. He shares with Arha his hard-won wisdom and helps her see that the Nameless Ones are not gods, but dark forces to be avoided. Together they escape to the West, where Arha once again becomes Tenar. When they set sail and Tenar knows she is truly free, she feels sorrow and loss rather than joy. She grieves for the waste of her life given to false gods and useless rituals, and fears a future where she must make her own decisions. An exceptional passage from page 173 speaks to the burden of freedom after escaping enslavement to a belief system: "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 towards the light, but the laden traveler may never reach the end of it."