Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

Book One of the Earthsea Cycle

By Ursula Le Guin

“Ged has talent, and he knows it.  And he is keen to play to that talent.  He gathers what tutorage he can, but soon he must follow his own ambitions.  He is going to train as a wizard.

But though he has ability, he is still young.  Very young.  With great power comes great responsibility, and this is not something that is easily taught.  And so it is that when Ged is goaded into showing off his talents, he finds himself playing with powers that he doesn’t fully understand.  He puts himself in grave danger.

Cursed by his actions, Ged moves sombrely through life.  But all things come to a choice, and these are his: to keep running, or to face the consequences of his past.  It is his, and only his choice to make, but though he thinks he is alone with this challenge, he has friends in many places.  Can they help him to make the right choice?  Only Ged knows.”

Well, this was another classic.  This is a beautiful children’s tale, a lesson to us all, painted against a stunning backdrop.  It certainly feels its age, but that is no bad thing – it remains fresh but in a classic style.  This is another series I will be picking up in the future.

We follow Ged as he seeks to become a wizard.  He has the talent for it, but does he have the maturity?  Well, that is the focus of this story.  It is an endearing one.wizardofearthseabookcover

This was an incredibly inventive and, in my reading experience, a unique world.  Earthsea (as you might gather) is a bit of an archipelago – a whole collection of islands that are varied in nature, and are also inhabited by a range of different peoples.  And it’s extremely well thought out.  The climate and the geography just feels natural, and that is no simple thing to do in such a unique setting.

This was also a joy to read, and is a beautifully written novel.  We have to bear in mind that it was written back in the ‘60s, but even so, it is gorgeous.  Very much in the classic fantasy voice, the descriptions of the world are expansive and enjoyable, and this is balanced with character development and action.  The pace is not rapid by modern standards, but it is certainly no slouch.  That should be obvious just from the scope of the story arc!

Then there is the other key fantasy pillar – magic.  This is another area in which this book excels.  The systems behind magic are fundamental, and the systems of Earthsea are very well done indeed.  There is always a cost balanced against the gain, and this is cleverly borne out, particularly in one scene where our protagonist has to “patch” his boat rather more substantially than he would like.  Suffice to say that he doesn’t get much sleep!

Finally, we have the story arc itself – the most important part you might say.  And I thought that this was very enjoyable.  We follow Ged, who is gifted in the ways of magic and is encouraged to pursue those skills.  As a young wizard, eager to show his talents, he ends up making an immature mistake, one that shadows him for his life.  So we follows Ged’s arc as he comes to term with what he’s done, attempts to learn the balance and responsibility of wizardry, and indeed, comes face to face with the very shadow that follows him.  It is a classic lesson in rashness and maturity – something we could all learn from.

So, was there anything that I didn’t like so much?  Perhaps only a couple of things.

The style of the story, perfectly placed as a children’s narrative, was not for my taste.  I suspect that part of this this is an audience point, and part of it is the age of the book, so it is not a failing in any sense, but not quite to my taste.  And in fact, this is an interesting view on how different the style of writing can make a book feel.  Definitely not a reason to steer clear of this classic.

The only other note I made was that the antagonist is a touch abstract.  This is kind of the point, so it’s a tough grumble to pull off, but I just felt that the tension leaked away as a consequence, simply because the antagonist always seemed a few steps away (with the exception of a couple of key moments).  This may also have something to do with the placement for children and, as already mentioned, the abstract danger is by design and gives us our children’s tale of morality.  So, even as I’m writing this, I’m not sure whether I should delete it…  I have left it in for the sake of balance alone!

Anyway.  That’s enough rambling.  This is a classic, and having read it, it certainly is a classic.  Another series to pick up, and I look forward to diving into Earthsea in the future.  Obviously recommended for any fan of fantasy.

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