Memer is a siege child, conceived through the rape of her mother by an Ald soldier during the conquest of their peace-loving city of Ansul seventeen years ago. Since then, reading and writing have been forbidden by the occupying Alds, who destroyed all the books save the ones in a secret room in Oracle House. To this room only Memer and the Waylord, the master of Oracle House, have access by way of a magical spell that reveals the door in an otherwise solid wall. There the Waylord teaches Memer to read, and begins to suspect that she is the one who can read the Oracle, the city's greatest treasure, and one that had been thought lost forever. Though the Alds believe writing to be demonic, they cherish oral stories and invite an itinerant storyteller, Orrec, to the city, a move that proves their undoing. As Orrec and his wife, Gry, learn more of the restrictions of the Alds, their sympathy for Ansul grows, and Orrec's skills as an orator are enlisted to foment an ultimately successful rebellion. Le Guin's skill in creating an utterly credible alternative world is in full force here; she neglects no detail in her cosmography, from history and political structure to daily customs. Memer is a sympathetic character from the start, and her sure and steady growth in the understanding of differences both reconcilable and irreconcilable and the complications of conquest is masterfully understated. The narration gives equal time to exposition, character development, and violent action; the cultural compromises, enforced cooperations, daily dangers, and complex [End Page 131] emotions of life under occupation will have relevance for readers' understanding of political exigencies in our own time, while the strong characters ensure personal engagement with the story. Readers who enjoy this book will want to pick up its companion, Gifts (BCCB 10/04), but it stands on its own as well.