You wouldn't think that Le Guin would be able to keep up the ground-breaking, meaningful work of the original Earthsea books many years later, but that's what she's done with this work. Written in 2001, it closes at long last the questions raised in The Farthest Shore - published in 1972. Specifically, it deals with the horrific Dry Land - the world of the dead traveled by Ged and future king Lebannon in that earlier book. It resolves the curious matter of why so many humans are trapped in a hellish grey limbo while no dragons are so doomed upon death. The book also resolves the antagonism between the Kargish and the magic-using peoples of Earthsea.
This story is told through three threads. One follows the arrival of a young Kargish Princess destined to marry Lebannon. The other follows a young magician who is plagued by dreams of his wife calling to him from the Dry Land - she and the rest of the dead yearn to be set free. Both converge on Tenar, the former Kargish priestess who is now around sixty and raising a fire-maimed child. The third deals with one of the high mage-priests, who seems to have lost his sole and/or mind when traveling to the Dry Land during the events told in The Farthest Shore. As events unfold, a feeling of imminent breakdown grows - the new King's reign is under considerable pressure, a revolution of some form is taking shape among the wizards, and that young fire-maimed girl appears to be heading for a crisis.
The story blends quite a bit of the world's politics and nuanced views on the nature of magic as practiced by at least three of Earthsea's nations. I particularly liked the way the author wove in the comparative strengths and insights of these different schools as well as their radically different practices and methodologies. The way the immediate stories are ultimately resolved almost play a secondary nature to the way the bigger issue of the Dry Land is finally resolved. It's one of those moments when a world changes that sticks with you for weeks afterward.
Le Guin is my favorite author. Her style and skill are unparalleled. If I could write 1/10th as well as Le Guin I'd be happy. (And I supposed I could be published!)