The Left Hand of Darkness
Genly Ai is a human Envoy. He is the first visitor on Winter, a planet that is in the midst of a glacial age. They are advanced in many ways, unusual in others. To them Ai is a freak and not to be trusted. He is trying to introduce them to his interplanetary alliance.
Lord Estraven is the prime minister of the countries on Winter. He is Ai's champion. While the other inhabitants of Winter look on Ai with suspicion, Estraven is working politically to get him accepted.
This is the beginning of an unusual friendship. Everything about Winter is unusual, from its climate to the beings who live on it. Ai does not understand Estraven or trust him. This is his story as he tries to get accepted and learn about these people. He does not realize how important Estraven will be in attaining his goal.
The Left Hand of Darkness is a fascinating story once the reader is into the second half. The first half is slow, confusing, and drags at times. The explanations and descriptions are needed to pull together the second half. That is when the story picks up and keeps the reader interested. It is worth slugging through the first half to get to the end. The inhabitants of Winter are different from other aliens we have met. They are fascinating to study.
The Left Hand of Darkness is one of those books that needs to be read a second, third, or more times to pick up on all the different thoughts and ideas in it. It's more than a First Contact or a friendship novel. Ursuala K. LeGuin weaves many different threads into The Left Hand of Darkness, making it a richer, deeper novel than it may first appear.
The book is told in first person from the point of view of two outsiders. Genly Ai is an outsider from the whole world and doesn't understand Winter politics. He struggles to understand humans who are completely different from anyone else in the known galaxy. Estravan is exiled from his own country for treason and barely tolerated in the neighboring country that takes him in. The two countries are enemies and Estravan had once been prime minister. He might be politically useful. That point of view shapes the novel, showing all the differences between the alien and the native humans and the differences of the humans who live on Winter.
LeGuin also adds in a few Winter folk tales between chapters to help give root to the people who live on the planet. The enementy between the two major countries in The Left Hand of Darkness form the basis of one of these stories. It sounds like it should unite the countries; it doesn't.
The Left Hand of Darkness is a good novel to read and enjoy. But dig into LeGuin's book. That's what makes it a powerful read.
These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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