URSULA K Le Guin is one of the founders of modern fantasy fiction; she's what could be called the 'godmother' of the genre.
Born in 1929, she is definitely an elder stateswoman and since the 1960s has written everything from poetry and children's books to elaborate series of fantasy and science fiction.
According to that modern source of all truth – Wikipedia – Le Guin has won five Hugo awards, five Nebula awards, 18 Locus awards (more than any other author), a National Book Award for Children's Books, the Gandalf Grand Master award and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master Award... whew!
She has written at least 63 books, yes, 63, and translated another three books. Le Guin has also written numerous short stories that were published in the pulp sci-fi magazines of the 50s and have since been lost.
Her most recent novel, Lavinia, is somewhat more realistic in that it's set on this planet and in our real history – well, as real as the origins of Rome can be given that what we know now is based largely on creative works written by the Ancient Greeks.
It is this historiosity, actually, that makes Lavinia a more difficult read than many of Le Guin's pervious works. Loosely based on the famous poem, The Aeneid by Virgil, Lavinia is the Roman maiden who marries Aeneas and so founds the Roman Empire.
The rather literary opening chapters sets the novel up with a poetical feel, however, it drops rather quickly into a blow-by-blow depiction of everyday life in ancient Latium with descriptions of household chores and worship.
Although this appears rather jarring at first, Lavinia is clearly defined as being more than the 'blushing maid on the edge of womanhood' that is her only description in Virgil's poem.
This is clearly Le Guin's aim – to flesh out one of the few women in The Aeneid and one of the more important, considering its was down to her bloodline that the glory of Roman depended on.
While Lavinia isn't easily recognisable as a feminist icon, her strength of character and adaptability lends itself to such a title.
Around Lavinia, Le Guin has placed a number of other interesting characters. While they may, or may not, be entirely historically accurate, depictions of Lavinia's mad mother, honourable father and loyal retainers flesh out the story.
Lavinia, a good daughter, acts as semi-priestess to her father's priestly roles as King of Latium. She has visions and reads omens, and really, it's only these tendencies that move the novel in the realm of fantasy – Lavinia, the novel, is more historical fiction than fantasy or sci-fi.
Fans looking for the magic and mystery of Le Guin's earlier works may find Lavinia a touch staid. There is a fair bit of emotion mixed in with the history but it is somewhat distant from the action.
Knowing Lavinia's eventual fate too, takes some of the suspense from the plot – after all, we know who she's going to marry from the get go.
However, this is a finely written piece of prose which illuminates a historical character – a woman – from a period that's traditionally been dominated by swashbuckling men like Caesar.
Le Guin has been nominated for yet another Locus Fantasy award for Lavinia, and it's more than like that this Grande dame of speculative fiction will win it: For her not to, would be a travesty.
Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin is published by Gollancz and is available from good book stores and online.