The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

This was a book of contrasts. It started cold and distant but as the story got bleaker, the warmth increased. The story is unlike anything I had read before.

A single envoy of an alliance of planets, Genly, is on Gethen (an ice world that was informally called Winter), trying to sell the country, indeed the whole planet, on entering the alliance. He’s sent by himself as it is non-threatening, and must sell it without an obvious displays of technology to a sceptical populace. The story then follows his trials and tribulations in two different countries and his growing friendship with a native of the planet.

As I already stated this book starts out distant and almost text book style. I found it very hard to relate to our protagonist or anything that was happening in the story. This is primarily because what this book is is a study of gender and sex. The Gethen’s are gender neutral, only entering a sexual state once a month and can be either male or female. People can give birth during one cycle and father a child in another. Genly is just a ‘normal’ man and his struggles to understand a gender neutral person is one of the main points of the story. He theoretically understands it but struggles with it, even to himself, throughout the story. It is also a study of what society’s would be like where people are less emotionally/sexually involved for most of the time. It was fascinating but not the most riveting from a story point of view.

However this changed it the latter half of the book. After Genly was imprisoned I still hadn’t really connected but the journey he and Estraven take was beautiful and poignant and I was fully invested by the end. I think this book will benefit from re-reads as I always tend to miss things on a first read due to wanting to know what happens. I know there were levels and concepts that I missed, and there was a depth to the language that I know I will appreciate more when I don’t need to concentrate on the story. I can see why this is considered a classic and I was tempted with a 5 star rating but that slow start gives this a stout 4 stars.

4 stars out of 5

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