The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Cycle #2)
by Ursula K. LeGuin
Description via Goodreads
The Earth is beautiful, and bright and kindly, but that is not all. The Earth is also terrible, and dark, and cruel. The rabbit shrieks dying in the green meadows. The mountains clench their great hands full of hidden fire. There are sharks in the sea, and there is cruelty in men's eyes. And where men worship these things and abase themselves before them, there evil breeds...(118)
We meet up with Ged again, on another journey--but not at first. The majority of this short book is dedicated to introducing the character Arha, the High Priestess of The Nameless Ones in the Place of Tombs. She is a living artifact of an old, somewhat forgotten religion and even less relevant to the kingdom of the Godking that rules today...Ged, enters the book much later.
I thought the role of religion in this adventure was interesting. The worship at the Place is very dark in nature. It involves frequent human sacrifice and trips into a labyrinth of tombs and treasure, where no light is permitted. Arha is able to discern that religion means different things for different people. For some it is a pathway to power, for others it's a way of life and for others it's just something to do because there is nothing else to do. Gradually, she uses this realization to form opinions of her circle of acquaintances, and decide who is friend and who is foe. Ged, an outsider, nonbeliever and heathen wizard, whom she discovers in the tombs one day turns out to be friend. He defies everything Arha was told--he lights the darkness. He shows her there is more out there than what is suppressed in the dark labyrinth. He returns her name, Tenar, to her, and frees her from the Place...it was no surprise that some of her fellow temple-folk turn out to be foes.
Plot-wise I didn't enjoy The Tombs of Atuan as much as I did A Wizard of Earthsea, but I think the language in this one is more friendly, and easier to read. I found Ged's origin story in A Wizard of Earthsea to be more compelling than Arha's...she comes across as a very self-righteous, condescending and self-centered character, which can be traced directly to her upbringing. As The Eaten One, she is told the darkness is her domain, and placed on a pedestal. Yet still she is just a girl, young and dumb, with no grasp on how vast and different the world is. Sequestered at the Place, she only knows what the other priestesses have taught her...which is religious worship (until she meets Ged)
At the end of The Tombs of Atuan, Arha still has much to learn about herself. Whereas, by the end of A Wizard of Earthsea, Ged had matured substantially...but Ged also had the freedom to go on a journey of self-discovery. Arha is just now finding this freedom and perhaps in the third book of the Earthsea Cycle, Arha will experience something more.
The Tombs of Atuan