2 stars · 2013 · fantasy · ya

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

earthsea Title: A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle #1)
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin (website)
Pub. Date: my copy: 2004, orig.: 1968
Source: Library
Summary: 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.
Genre: YA, Fantasy

In a land where sorcerers come thick, like Gont of the Enlades, you may see a raincloud blundering slowly from side to side and place to place as one spell shunts it on to the next, till at last it is buffeted out over the sea where it can rain in peace.

A Wizard of Earthsea tells the tale of a young boy, Duny, who grew to be one of the greatest wizards alive. Duny grew up in Gont, a small island in the Archipelago. As the nephew of a witch, he learned a number of simple spells and charms. One day, however, he loosed a terrible evil and now he’s the only one who can stop it.

I feel like a HORRIBLE fantasy fan for saying this, but I could not get into this book. I wanted to, I wanted to so badly; after all, it’s a staple of the Fantasy genre! Unfortunately, it took me nearly a week to read a book that was less than 200 pages and more than once I wanted to set it down and walk away. In the end, however, I struggled to finish and eventually took to skimming entire pages.

I understand what Le Guin was trying to do with her writing – she wanted the phrasing and wording to sound archaic and myth-like. Sadly, this led to extremely long, boring passages full of unnecessary descriptions. Remember those camping scenes in Harry Potter? Now imagine 200 pages of it. The only difference is that Duny/Sparrowhawk/Ged/any-other-names-he-had-that-I-forgot was in a boat instead of on land. There was multiple sentences I read and reread numerous times before giving up on trying to understand their meaning.

While I loved the idea that names held enormous power and that knowing a person’s/object’s true name meant you held dominion over them, I found it difficult to keep track of these names. Take Ged, for example. As a boy he was Duny. Once he came of age and had his Naming he became known as Ged. His ‘use-name’ – the name a person goes by in public – was Sparrowhawk. Depending on who he was with, these names became interchangeable along with the names of everyone Ged came across along his journey. The idea was fantastic, but I found its execution to be a little confusing.

“It is very seldom,” the young man said at last, “that dragons ask to do men favors.”
“But it is very common, said the dragon, “for cats to play with mice before they kill them.”

As a young mage, Ged saw some words in a book and said them aloud, releasing an evil Shadow. Now this Shadow haunts him and threatens to destroy him. The only way Ged can defeat it is to face his fears and unleash his own power, something he’s been hesitant to do for years. Throughout the book many people – and prophecies – hail Ged as the greatest wizard ever, yet I saw nothing to make me believe that. He worked simple weather charms and occasionally changed form. After releasing the Shadow he was scared to work magic and spend a good deal of the novel avoiding anything but the easiest of spells. I didn’t believe this was supposed to be the most powerful wizard.

Throughout A Wizard of Earthsea, there are a few really great scenes – like the scene where Ged faces dragons, for example! – but those were few and far between. The majority of the book was dry and very tell-y, with only a tiny glimpse of excitement sprinkled in. The ending was the ultimate letdown for me. The entirety of the book built up a huge showdown between Ged and the Shadow and that final battle culminated in a two-page testimony from another character’s perspective. The whole thing was glossed over and was utterly disappointing.

It pains me to be so harsh, and I desperately wanted to love this book, but A Tale of Earthsea wasn’t for me. I have a feeling I missed the boat with this one – I know I would have absolutely LOVED it as a child. Reading it now, however, didn’t work. I’m definitely in the minority with this though, and maybe – maybe – I’ll pick up the second book one day to give the series another shot.

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4 thoughts on “A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

    1. Try it out. I think I’ve been reading too many modern fantasy novels and the writing style/pacing threw me off a bit. So many people adore both this book & the author and I wish I would have enjoyed it more. I’d like to revisit it one day and hopefully have a different view a second time around.

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