Title: A Wizard of Earthsea
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
First publication date: 1968
Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.
Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.
Ah, true old-school fantasy feels like home <3 I used to avoid reading in the fantasy genre out of fear that it would influence my writing and ideas but as many, much better writers have said, writers must read. So I think this book marks my return to what inspired me to read and write.
A Wizard of Earthsea is the first book of the series by Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the very first big fantasy writers (and a woman at that). I got the books from my mom who first bought and read them shortly after giving birth to me (or was that The Wheel of Time? Can’t remember). So when we talk about the series calling it old-time fantasy is really accurate.
Unlike the modern fantasy from the past few years in A Wizard of Earthsea you will not find tons of cool characters, bigger-than-the-universe battles, our beloved sarcasm or witticism. All those are part of the new trend and while I do enjoy them, reading A Wizard of Earthsea made me all different kind of happy.
The story follows the journey of Ged, a young boy living in a simple village in Gont, who finds out he has predisposition to become a powerful mage. He has many teachers over time who pass their knowledge in their own way and the boy is always eager to learn and grow stronger. His youth and thirst for power, along with his pride (after saving his village from invaders using his magic) take him to the renowned school for wizards on the island of Roke. There he spends even more years learning until one fateful night, pushed by his pride and boyish overconfidence he summons a shadow creature which tries to kill him.
A Wizard of Earthsea is a story of a young man’s journey as he learns and understands the world around him, the power in each name (names have special powers in his magical world) and each decision. It has magic and dragons and darkness as any true fantasy would but in is lacking the big explosions, battles and intricate storylines which are the favorites of many readers in the genre. The book is more about the prose, because honest to got the way Le Guin writes – it’s like singing. And it is more about the growth of the person, their emotions and tribulations rather than the plot itself. This may be counted as a minus for some or as a big plus for others – it depends on your preferences.
What I didn’t like in the book, because let’s be honest, there is always something to pick on, is 1) the third omniscient point of view and 2) the fact that there was an enormous amount of telling vs showing. I don’t have to explain the first much – the book is written in a way as if the story is told by somebody on the side yet that somebody could see in the heart and mind of all characters at the same time. For me, it’s kind of annoying to know all and to jump around from head to head.
But let me elaborate on the second.
From the very beginning we are told what Ged is and what he is not, what is happening even somewhere far away where the characters can’t see and even what will happen. There is barely any dialogue where those things can be naturally given as information and the info-dumps are many and all around the place. For example when he meets Vetch, probably the only friend he makes in the book, we are told that they become friends, not shown. I don’t know, it may be just me but I am not fond of being told what to feel, how to react and have facts forced into my head out of turn.
All in all, this book was super easy to read and even though it didn’t have much excitement in it didn’t leave me disappointed at the end. I do hope that it was more like a base for the series and from here on we’ll have more human interactions (there are barely ten named characters in the whole book) and more adventure. Oh, and dragons. I do hope there are more dragons.
I’ll give A Wizard of Earthsea 4/5 rating for the awesome prose(I wish I could write like that), for the interesting concept and vast world-building. They don’t make them like that anymore 😀
What about you? What rating would you give? What are your thoughts and takes on A Wizard of Earthsea?