Book reviews

Wizard of Earthsea by Ursala Le Guin

Format: Paperback

Buy from: Amazon

Borrow: UK Libraries

Summary: The Island of Gont is a land famous for wizards. Of these, some say the greatest – and surely the greatest voyager – is the man called Sparrowhawk. As a reckless, awkward boy, he discovered the great power that was in him – with terrifying consequences. Tempted by pride to try spells beyond his means, Sparrowhawk lets loose an evil shadow-beast in his land. Only he can destroy it, and the quest leads him to the farthest corner of Earthsea.

Review: The Earthsea series are classics in children’s fantasy literature. I noticed it placed on bookshop shelves when I was growing-up, but I never got around to reading the series. This is what prompted me to read the first novel in the series. I wanted to see why this series was so revered by some, and why it still stands up today.

The first thing I noticed when reading this novel was the extensive world-building involved. Everything seems to have been thought out intricately, from the geography of the world itself, to the magic. The magic is not too overpowered, which sometimes breaks the plot of other fantasy novels, and messing with it can have terrible consequences. I loved the idea of having power over an object, creature or person if you knew its real name.

I enjoyed the main character. At first, I didn’t really relate or have much empathy for Ged. However, I got the impression that you weren’t really meant to. At the beginning, Ged is an arrogant boy with too much pride, but as the story progresses he becomes more mature and his character development is exceptionally good. Ged must do something that we all can relate to; admit he was wrong and fix his own mistakes. All of us have been in this position at some point, and the way that Ged reacts and deals with this situation makes him a great main character.

There are also some good supporting characters too. However, others felt undeveloped, only there to progress Ged’s story. Vetch was a likeable character, and a good friend to Ged. His patience and nature was a good contrast to Ged’s sometimes reckless behaviour and their interactions and friendship feel genuine. Jaspar was one character I did not understand. The author states that he that has something against Ged. However, this isn’t conveyed very well in the text. As a result, Jason comes off as a two-dimensional character who’s only job is to act as a catalyst for the plot.

In terms of characters, I was surprised at the novel’s diversity. Ged himself has ”red-brown” skin, according to Le Guin,. Other characters also appear to fall under the BAME umbrella. It was only after reading this book that I found out about Le Guin’s criticism of authors writing only white characters. In fact, there is an interesting article where Le Guin disparages Sci Fi for white-washing an adaptation of her books.

Sometimes I struggled with motivating myself to read the book. The narrative style reads like someone telling a story after it has happened. It is very descriptive, detailing the intricate world around the protagonist, and the action happens in short bursts. This meant I sometimes felt a bit lost and found myself drifting off a bit on the slower sections of the book. This isn’t really a criticism of the book, as I feel it is very much a stylistic choice. However, if you’re like me and struggle with descriptive passages of text, you may want to keep this in mind when reading this book. I also felt that the author thought the plot was secondary to the protagonist’s own development, so sometimes I couldn’t figure out where it was going. The plot didn’t have any clear direction, and this sometimes made me want to put down the book. However, the other elements that I found positive made me pick it back up again.

TLDR: All in all, I enjoyed Wizard of Earthsea. I felt it was a very clever piece of writing, with good characterisation of the main character. Other supporting characters were not as solid as Ged, and I struggled with the plot and narration. However, the extensive and complex world-building made up for it, and I fully expect to continue reading the series.

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