I'm currently behind on reviews, so don't be surprised if the recent reviews are a bit sparse.

The Eye of the Heron

Cover of The Eye of the Heron.

Setting: On a planet with a human population at one just one point, exiles from earth who arrived in two waves: First a group of criminals from South America (many thousands, though their origin isn’t commonly known among them), then decades later a global group of pacifists (only two thousand, a smaller group). Everything is different, of course: different animals, and the landscape is dominated by trees growing in rings. The animals are also super cool and changing and only very vaguely resemble the Terran animals they are named after. (Apart from the adorable and adorably-named wotsit).

The conflict between the city and the village Shantih is stark and a great setup – especially the narrative slowly revealing that the village may see itself as an equal partner, but the city certainly sees them as little more than slaves. I’m not sure what I think about the framing of the refusal of communication as moral violence – general the pacifists are on the extreme end of collaboration, cooperation and communication, and I’m not sure what their final failure can say under those premises.

The writing, of course, is lush and insightful and makes you want to just sink into the book and enjoy it forever. Loving details everywhere, paired with a mastery of both writing and human nature – pure le Guin. It’s weird how there’s a fair bit of gender … opinions, let’s call them opinions, in there, and even though they’re pretty sweeping statements about how men and women are, I don’t even want to argue, I can enjoy them for the insight they offer even while they’re not universally true. Le Guin in magical like that.

Rating note: Undecided between three stars and four stars – I was kinda afraid she’d show the idealists just magically win, so I was glad that wasn’t how things played out. But the ending is also bitter-sweet and left me … mostly with vibes and some questions. Which, I suppose, is a good thing, so I decided to round up.

Plot summary

Beware: full spoilers! Also probably incomplete and possibly incomprehensible.

The pacifists had sent out a small group from their village in order to explore the planet, because they want to go someplace else – they aren’t super happy with the city, which they see as equal partners. The city sees them as little more than slaves and decides they must not leave. Things escalate, in a fairly pacifist way, mostly led by Lev, a young man with strong feelings, because Vera, the wise old woman, is a hostage at Boss Falco’s house.

The daughter of Boss Falco, Luz, is raised in a very traditional role, and even her going to school was a concession. Naturally she starts to pick up bits of Vera’s wisdom, and then heads out to warn the village before her father attacks it. Lev really tries to be sensible and non-violent, while also being young and idealistic and full of fire – “A great heart, but not sure where is center is.” Luz stays in the village, and out of an impassioned plea renames the planet as “Mud”, rather than the Earth-born “Victoria”.

There’s a confrontation, but it escalates for slightly unclear reasons (possibly Luz’s father growing a conscience and shooting his pet bully after he shot Lev, unprovoked). Lev dies. Lots of people die. Vera is wounded. Everything is sad. The village compromises and does as told. A small group decides to run away, Luz among them, preparing a route (but no path) so the others can follow years later, but can’t be followed by the city. Sixty-seven people leave and hike for a long time until settling down.


You see, it seems to me that where men are weak and dangerous is in their vanity. A woman has a center, is a center. But a man isn’t, he’s a reaching out. So he reaches out and grabs things and piles them up around him and says, I’m this, I’m that, this is me, that’s me, I’ll prove that I am me! And he can wreck a lot of things, trying to prove it.


“First you try negotiation and arbitration of the problem, whatever it is, by existing means and institutions. You try to talk it out. […] Step two: noncooperation. A kind of settling down and holding still, so they know you mean what you said. […] Then step three, which we’re now preparing: issue of an ultimatum. A final appeal, offering a constructive solution, and a clear explanation of what will be done if that solution isn’t agreed upon now.”
“And what will be done, if they don’t happen to agree?”
“Move on to step four. Civil disobedience.”
“What’s that?”
“A refusal to obey any orders or laws, no matter what, issued by the authority being challenged. We set up our own, parallel, independent authority, and follow our own course.”


Standing upright and having two hands doesn’t make us human. Standing up and having ideas and ideals does! And holding fast to those ideals. Together. We can’t live alone.


There was no God here; he belonged to people, and where there were no people there was no God. […] Nobody had made this wilderness, and there was no evil in it and no good; it simply was.