by Ursula K. Le Guin
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
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 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?
(synopsis from Goodreads)
It's funny that I chose to read this book right after Pearl North's Libyrinth, as both books deal with an oppressive invading force that views the written word as evil. But while Libyrinth was a mish-mash of ideas, loose plotting, and weak character development, Voices was an engaging study in character development and world building.
Beginning with the maps at the beginning of the book (something which Libyrinth, annoyingly, lacked), Le Guin colourfully paints the world of the Western Shore. This is actually the second book in the series, but you'd never know it just from reading the story; in fact, it wasn't until I read the synopsis for the first book, Gifts, that I realized that I was reading about some recurring characters. The main strength of this book, though, is the world building. The whole thing seemed so clear. We know why the characters are in the situation they're in, why the Alds invaded, and how the citizens tried to cope with living under an oppressive invading force for seventeen years. We get to see the prejudices and social mores that differ between the two cultures, and why that's important, and how it drives the story forward.
My main complaint about this story was that the plot was quite... well, political. It wasn't something I, personally, found all that interesting, but other readers might love it. I'm not really sure what else I would have liked to see instead; it's one of those stories that seems fine the way it is, even it wasn't exactly my cup of tea.
The first and third books in the series, Gifts and Powers, have good reviews, and I'm eager to read them both (especially Gifts, if I can find a copy). If you like good, old-fashioned fantasy novels that are well crafted and immerse you in another world, you might find something you like in Voices.
Overall: 3.71 out of 5