Book Review: City of Illusions

cityofillusionsRead for: Number 3 in the Hainish Cycle

Rating: 5/5

I loved this book. It begins with a man who has lost his memory and is found wandering through the woods of Earth (also referred to as Terra). He is different from most men in that he has the eyes of a cat, a difference that inspires fear in many of the people he meets (he is actually a descendant of the two lovers from Planet of Exile). He is taken in by a family who name him Falk and teach him the ways of the forest, and to fear the Shing – the Shing being the enemy that has broken the power of the League of All Worlds and seized control of Earth. The Shing maintain control over the native planet dwellers by breaking them into smaller communities and pushing them into rural settlements where they fear anyone who comes near their community. Falk does not remember where he comes from, and after six years with his new family is encouraged to travel to Es Toch to find out about his past. Along the way he encounters talking animals that speak about how it is wrong to take a life, which is a view held by the Shing (who are essentially pro-lifers). I’m a massive lover of anthropomorphic animals (and vegetarianism! ha), so this was a nice touch for me. As he journeys on he meets a woman named Estrel who travels with him to Es Toch, leading the way. There are a few events that take place during the journey, but the story really takes off once Falk reaches Es Toch. What happens then is a fairly large turn of events and I won’t spoil it for anyone in this review. I will say though that I adore Le Guin’s ability to write characters that accomplish their quests not through the use of violence or weapons, but instead by finding themselves and believing in their own virtues.

Le Guin introduces a strong dystopian world in City of Illusions, and I thought the pacing and characters were stronger than the two earlier books in the cycle. This book also succeeded in building suspense and had me very eager to reach a climax/conclusion, where the two previous books felt a bit lost at some points. The idea of a villain that is pro-life I found very interesting; they refuse to kill, but will instead wipe the memory of their enemy and set them loose to live or die on their own. I’m sure I’m not the first to point out that being the hand that kills or choosing to send a person out into the world to survive on their own with very few supports are essentially the same thing… whether you choose to kill directly or set someone up for death later, you are still responsible for their demise. When you think about it, this is a fairly controversial stance to take in a science fiction book published in 1967. And this is why I love Ursula so much!

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