Tehanu is the fourth book of the Earthsea Cycle, written 18 years after the third book. It tells a different type of story and has a different tone from the earlier books. It’s a direct sequel in that it continues where the third book left off. It actually starts slightly before the ending of the third book and then continues with the story of two of our main characters, Ged and Tenar. The larger focus is on Tenar, the girl first introduced in The Tombs of Atuan.
This book seems to be a polarizing book among fans of the original books. I actually enjoyed it a lot, but I wonder if I’d have felt differently if I’d read the original books when they were published. If I’d lived for years with the story in my head as it was written, especially seeing the third book as the end of the story, I might have had more trouble accepting this book. Without spoiling the story, the third book brings about a major change that affects Ged and then the story ends with a sort of vague implication of a “happily ever after” ending. That ending wasn’t too terribly difficult to accept, but it did feel a little unrealistic. In this book we get, in my opinion, a more realistic story that deals with the repercussions from the third book in a more serious way.
This book doesn’t have a strong story, especially not a strong fantasy story. There’s an underlying but not strongly-fleshed-out story thread with more of a fantasy feel to it, but it represents only a very small portion of the book. Most of the book felt almost like a contemporary fiction story set in a rural environment. It focuses a lot on the “ordinary” concerns and fears and day-to-day lives of adult characters. There’s also some not-so-subtle discussion of power, what power means, what it’s worth, and especially power as it relates to gender. I found some of that to be a little too obvious, pulling me out of the book to make me consider what the author herself wanted to say rather than thinking about it in the context of the story. However, I didn’t think there was so much of it that it bogged the story down.
I still really enjoyed the author’s writing style which, despite a slightly different feel, held my interest just as well as the previous books had. She also made me care, or continue to care, about the characters. Although the actual plot was a bit sparse, it was interspersed into the book well enough to keep me interested in the story when combined with my interest in the characters.