|The Left Hand of Darkness|
Written by Ursula LeGuin
Published by Orbit Books
Paperback - 248 pages
Published December 2012
Part of the Hodderscape Review Project
In a nutshell:The Left Hand of Darkness is the mission of Genly Ai, a human envoy who has come to the planet called Winter. He tries to bring the planet into the fold of galactic enlightenment, but he’s an alien in a strange world. In a world where everyone has no gender, how do they react to the only man in the world?
What worked:The crux of The Left Hand of Darkness is the issue of gender on the planet Winter, and LeGuin does a great job of showing how this affects the history and culture of the locals.
Throughout the book are snippets from their folklore and history that shows how kenning – the monthly cycle where the Gethians change from androgynous to single sex. This gives you a deeper understanding of how their society works and, more importantly, how different Genly is to the rest of them.
The world-building of Winter is also superb for such a short novel; the landscape has shaped the people around it and it’s a harsh environment that forces Genly to adapt to survive.
What didn't work:My main bugbear with The Left Hand of Darkness is its pacing. This might stem from the fact that it was written 45 years ago; a different time for a different audience. That being said, there were only one or two brief moments of conflict or excitement in the story, with the rest of the novel plodding along slowly.
This is most evident during the 800-mile journey that Genly has to take along with his companion, Estraven. The journal-entry narration of this section drags the plot along and it becomes a little repetitive until you get to the climax.