I recall an old gamers' joke about how the best magical item in the setting of The Lord of the Rings
is a cursed Ring of Invisibility. In The Tombs of Atuan
, the best magical item is also a ring, apparently, that bears "the sign of dominion, the sign of peace," without which "no king could rule well," leading to "tyrants and wars and quarrelling abont all the lands of Earthsea" (134). I recall that Donaldson's repulsive protagonist also has a special ring--perhaps someone needs to write about the focus on jewelry in classic fantasies.
Just as The Wizard of Earthsea
is the locus classicus for the School of Magicke setting, so too this volume might be a special bearer of the bizarre fantasy convention wherein female characters within an institutional setting have nasty rivalries; it probably reached its peak with some of the later original Dune
sequels, and jumped the shark with Robert Jordan. The nice thing in this Le Guin volume is that it's not overdone, and it's plain that the rivalry between the principal protagonist and her fellows is theological, generational, political, ethical. It's layered thickly in a short amount of pages, and doesn't come across, as in Jordan, say, that Girls Are Just Catty.
Primary conflict appears to be, as in the first volume, a matter of self-overcoming. The primary protagonist must overcome the brainwashing of a fundamentalist death-cult, wherein the gods eat the penitent (as opposed to christianity, wherein penitent eats deity). Definitely less YAish, insofar as people die, fairly horribly--though it is less visceral than ontological.
Recommended for those who watch through spyholes, eunuch wardens, ones truly reborn to atheism.