I don't know what I think about this book. I've had it for years but never tried to read it until recently, which is odd since UKL is one of my very favorite writers. I think perhaps I don't yet "get" this one. It was hard for me to get into. The characters weren't compelling for me. Rather than quit reading, I decided to skip over chunks of it to see if it pulled me in later on, then I could go back and fill in the blank spots once it had my interest. Only it never really captured my interest. Other people, it seems, find it their very favorite of all her books. So I'm convinced something important and good is there, but I just don't know how to see it yet.
Another book of hers I didn't respond to much was The Dispossessed, which other people I've talked to have passionately loved. And there are some similarities between these two books, I think. They're both basically about worldsaving, idealism, activitism, people trying to shape their societies to be more amenable or conducive to whatever it is that the human heart craves and needs most: Freedom, maybe, or perhaps Justice, or maybe just a true Community of living souls. They involve power and how it's used to control or restrict others, how it's experienced by different members of a community. I think this is a really important subject, and I can't at all put my finger on why the protagonists of either story never stirred my emotions and got me involved in their troubles.
That's a kind of magical thing that good authors do, get you to care about what happens to the characters, and it often happens right away, on the very first page or two of a novel. But I haven't heard many ideas of how exactly it's done. Somehow, though UKL's characters nearly always do grab me, in this book they never did. I skipped rather large chunks two or three times, and never got to the part that made me care.
I know when I first read the Earthsea trilogy (as it was then), my very first books by UKL, I went all the way through without getting them. I then talked about them with my brother who had recommended them to me, and realized I had totally wrong expectations from the start. He was so adamant that the series was extremely good that I read it again and that time it got me. I think the whole series is great and have read it many times since. So, for The Dispossessed and now Malafrena, are they just awaiting another read through before they yield to me this delicious fruit that other readers talk about? Or do they just not have the power to speak to me, by some quirk or other of who I am? Risk another read? Yes or no? You guys decide for me.