Title: The Farthest Shore
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Publication date: 1972
Darkness threatens to overtake Earthsea: the world and its wizards are losing their magic. Despite being wearied with age, Ged Sparrowhawk — Archmage, wizard, and dragonlord — embarks on a daring, treacherous journey, accompanied by Enlad’s young Prince Arren, to discover the reasons behind this devastating pattern of loss. Together they will sail to the farthest reaches of their world — even beyond the realm of death — as they seek to restore magic to a land desperately thirsty for it.
As you can see, I am still going strong with the Ursula Le Guin‘s wave and I even think I’ll be able to finish all her works (that I have) in no time. I did notice, however, that the more I read the more I realize that just good prose is not enough.
When I started with the first two books, A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan, I thought that their plot would be connected in some way. It turns out that the only connection so far is the wizard Ged who features in each of them. In the third book, The Farthest Shore, the story follows the steps of Ged years after the events in book 2, where he is Archmage of Roke, and his new companion Arren, a prince of Enlad. The two of them set on an adventure to find out what is causing wizards to forget their spells and the lands of Earthsea to lose its magic. It is a long and tedious journey as the two of them go to several locations where the magic has disappeared only to be taken to the end of the world to face the one that wrecked the precious Balance all wizards learn to protect and cherish.
As I’ve mentioned before, I love Le Guin‘s style — it’s sweet, it’s eloquent and it is easy to read (even though sometimes I think she could say things with a few words instead of few pages). But like any good food — if you eat too much of it eventually you’ll get sick or grow to hate it. In my previous reviews I mentioned that her plots are usually super simple and straight-forward, with no wow moments; her focus is more on the prose itself and the depth of her characters and their inner experiences rather than anything else. If that’s your thing then you’ll probably love the book. It’s not mine though.
I grew bored and weary in the first quarter of the book and the feeling didn’t leave me until the last pages. I became excited then, we were about to find out who or what was causing the Balance to tilt and magic to disappear — but unfortunately there was no surprise there, no plot twist, not even a battle. It was super anticlimactic and I had to leave the review for the next day so as not to be too harsh while my frustration lasted.
Another thing that didn’t sit well with me was that the whole book was in some depressing, no-hope-to-win tone while there were little to no terrible obstacles along the way. Sure, Ged almost died twice but it was so obvious that he won’t die that it killed any feeling of danger or anticipation which would have made the moment tense. Arren, on the other side, was more or less useless – he spent most of his time thinking how useless he was or how much he did or did not love Ged. From the very beginning of the book when Ged decided to take him on this journey he kept saying that Arren was the right person for companion, he had a role to play etc, etc. I realized that his role came after the journey and he really didn’t have to be on that journey unless you count the moments when Arren physically carried Ged because he was hurt. But that could have been done by any man so…
Another thing that annoys me a bit is that there are no girls in the story. Sure, in The Tombs of Atuan we have Tenar but apart from that all the women that were mentioned are usually in passing, with no name and they were just an extension of their husband/brother/father. I get that the story was written in 1972 and times were different then but c’mon, this is ridiculous.
Anyway, I’ll give The Farthest Shore 3/5 rating because I still like the whole idea of the Earthsea and the depth of the details Ursula Le Guin goes into to make this world so alive, so realistic. And I did like the idea of magic disappearing because of the imbalance, I just wasn’t particularly trilled by its execution.
What about you? What rating would you give? What are your thoughts and takes on The Farthest Shore?