Friday 5 October 2012

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Book 1) - Ursula K. Le Guin

Title: A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Book 1)
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1968
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

"A Wizard of Earthsea" is the first novel in Ursula K. Le Guin's classic YA fantasy series. This is actually a book I never managed to read as a youngster, in fact until there was a TV show made about the story of Earthsea I had never actually heard about it. Then again in those days I mainly limited myself to reading books that were recommended to me by peers or ones that caught my attention in the library or bookstore which tended to be new releases. Perhaps, I missed out by not reading the book then, because as an adult reading it I am not sure I truly understand the high praise that this book seems to get in various circles.

The story itself follows a young boy named Sparrowhawk who begins to learn the art of magic from his aunt, a local witch. However, when the village is attacked by an invading horde he uses magic to save everyone. This of course draws the attention of a powerful mage who in the end offers the boy the chance to go to great wizard school of Roke. However, whilst there he becomes both arrogant and proud which soon leads to a magical duel against another student. When this duel unleashes an evil shadow, Sparrowhawk's future is changed forever as his life will be at risk for as long as such evil prowls the world. So Sparrowhawk must decide if he will forever try to avoid this danger or if he will try and fight it.

At its heart this is a wonderful little tale here that looks at the internal conflict & mistakes of an adolescent and how he must almost overcome himself in order to move on in life. I really enjoyed following Sparrowhawk's progress from arrogance, to guilt, to a determination to undo the damage he had done. The book really is about watching someone learn about humility, friendship and responsibility as they progress into adulthood. I was actually quite impressed that Le Guin does such a great job in keeping this the focus of the story without getting bogged down in any epic good versus evil plotline.

However, a major issue I had is that Le Guin has tried to cram an epic adventure into a rather short novel. The story is basically all about the plot with years passing by at times without any real character development or depth being added to the events and places encountered. The length of the novel and structure utilised has without doubt been driven by its target audience and I am sure many children would enjoy the plot's progression through various quick sections of action etc. However as an adult I felt there was a depth missing to the novel that could have expanded and enhanced both the story itself and my appreciation for the world being created.

Overall, I am glad that I have now read this classic of fantasy literature and whilst I did have issues with the way the story is told I did still find it to be an interesting read. I will probably continue with the series and see how Le Guin's writing develops as I am hoping that the promise in both the characters and world she has built here can really be embraced.

Challenges Book Counts Towards:
Speculative Fiction Challenge
Year of the Fantasy Classic Challenge

1 comment:

  1. One reason LeGuin is so popular with science fiction and fantasy writers and fans is that she gets a lot of adulation from outside the genre but doesn't try to distance herself from it. Unlike say, Margaret "I don't write science fiction" Atwood, LeGuin has never tried to claim she didn't write spec fic. I actually enjoyed her science fiction more than her fantasy, especially THE DISPOSSESSED and THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, two classics in the field.