Starting at the beginning because that is usually the best place to start. A drifter from the lowlands finds himself entertained by the tales two young people are telling; tales of clans ran by people with specific gifts that make them a bit more than people. Gifts that run through family lines, always in danger of being watered down when new blood joins, but with wonderful/terrible possibilities. The young lady, Gry, claims to be able to call animals at will. The mysterious boy on the other hand refuses to discuss his own gift.
Fade to black and scene. Now go back and find the real beginning to start with.
A rash young man with a terrible gift claims a young woman as his wife during a raid. She comes upland with him and they have a son. From the father young Orrec is supposed to inherit the terrible gift; from his mother he gains something unique among his people. A different sort of gift as his mother brought literacy and stories from her childhood into her new home.
Gifts, at its core, is a book about not using the supernatural powers so many fantasy protagonists take for granted. Gry is supposed to use her ability to call animals in for the hunt but would rather use her abilities to train domestic animals. Orrec’s situation is perhaps more tragic. After a terrible accident he fears that just by allowing himself to see anyone he loves could be in danger; so like a hero in the lore he willingly blindfolds himself until he can gain control of his gift.
Should someone with a unique power feel compelled to use it for their families gain? Can a father love his son yet still use his tragedy to strengthen his own position? This is my first Le Guin, and if this is the type of story she can weave I get why she is so beloved; as far as I can tell this isn’t even one of her most popular works.
Perhaps not as deep as it could have been, but then again perhaps it was just as deep as the author intended to be. This was a leisurely paced journey of discovery. It flirted with a young love story line that shows how it could be done; written by someone who obviously remembers what it actually was like to be young. It was smart. Even when it was violent it flowed gently; at times it was almost too dry but for the most part it worked as it stayed consistent.
I still plan on reading some of Le Guin’s more popular works; both The Left Hand of Darkness and the some of the Earthsea books are on my list. But until then I don’t regret starting here. Gifts was a perfectly enjoyable book with some real interesting ideas. As I said, I wish it could have dug into its themes a bit deeper. But I will gladly take what I got.