Forgiveness Day • 1994 • Planetary Romance novella by Ursula K. Le Guin

★★★★☆

Synopsis: Solly is the strong-minded Envoy of the galaxy-spanning united nations Ekumen down on planet Werel. Werel isn’t yet an Ekumen partner but desperately wants to. That’s why Solly is in high regard even though she is a female who doesn’t try to fit into a subservient role in the patriarchal society of Werel. The officials get confused all the time 

When she contradicted Lord Gatuyo in a discussion, he stared with the blank disbelief of a man who has been talked back to by his shoe.

She gets caught in a starting civil war between the owning people and their slaves.

Ever at her side is her bodyguard Teyeo, a former officer who served in fighting the colonial planet Yeowe’s revolution war. He’s traditional, full of honor, hating Solly’s inability to integrate in the society’s expectations how a lady should behave:

 Teyeo knew as soon as he met her that this was an impossible assignment. He could not trust her or himself. Her sexual immodesty aroused him as it disgusted him; she was a whore whom he must treat as a princess. Forced to endure and unable to ignore her, he hated her.

Solly needs to attend at a great religious festivity, the Forgiveness Day, but Teyeo receives a note warning of an assassination attempt.

Review: I’ve read this novella as part of a longer commemorative read in 2018, but sadly without reviews. 

It is part of a five part “story-suite” featuring the two Hainish planets Yeowe and Werel, all with mostly different protagonists but covering the same places and topics of slavery, gender relations, and revolutions. Four stories have been published between 1994 and 1995, and an additional one in 1999. Forgiveness Day can be read perfectly well as a standalone story. But reading the other stories is worth your time and harmonizes very well with this one. They were collected in 2017 as Five Ways to Forgiveness, a title of “The Library of America #297”, but I read it as part of the huge collection The Found and the Lost.

As so often, Le Guin has much to say about alien cultures and slavery. While it has an interesting plot, the main focus of the story is the anthropological discussion, and also to follow the inevitable romance of both protagonists. 

I found some commonalities with Nicola Griffith’s grand novel Ammonite (review). In both stories, a foreign woman is confronted with the culture of a new world. Both have to understand the society to survive, learning much about themselves, finding romantic relationships. They are different in the process their protagonists achieve these goals and thus complement each other’s work. 

This novella will stay a longer time with me, I’m already ogling those other Yeowe and Werel stories to read again. It won the Locus, Sturgeon, and Asimov’s Readers Awards, and has been anthologized multiple times. If you haven’t read anything from the Hainish universe yet, you should start with The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness. After that, this novella or the whole story-suite would be a good further dive into the Hainish universe and Le Guin’s writing. 

Meta: isfdb. It won the Locus, Sturgeon, and Asimov’s Readers Awards. I’ve read it in the collection Lost and Found, and re-read it in Dozois’s The Best of the Best Volume 2.

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2 Responses to Forgiveness Day • 1994 • Planetary Romance novella by Ursula K. Le Guin

  1. thebookgator says:

    Oh, fascinating. I feel like I might have read this one a million years ago, but there’s just enough detail in your review that I’m unsure. The complicated gender dynamics sound familiar though. Sigh. Need to keep working on her catalogue.

    Liked by 1 person

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