Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Posted September 30, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 2 Comments

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A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Series: Earthsea Cycle #1
Publisher: Parnassus on November 1, 1968
Genre: Classics, Fantasy
Target Age Group: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Rating: ★★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

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.

 

I tried reading Ursula K. Le Guin a long time ago.  I think I was a sophomore in high school and I tried at the same time I tried Jonathan Stroud’s The Amulet of Samarkand and Douglas Addams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  The other two stuck and come favorites, but for some reason… Le Guin didn’t.  I don’t remember much about the experience, other than being really bored early in and giving up.  Retrospectively, I’m not sure why.  This is right up my alley.

A Wizard of Earthsea is a small story in a big world – it is definitely a beginning.  There’s adventure and darkness and magic.  There’s a little of everything really good about fantasy in this book, and I am delighted to report that there’s really not much of the bad that plagues so much of the older epic fantasy out there.  Ursula K. Le Guin was out there in the 60s and 70s writing sweeping fantasy worlds alongside the men… and… she was doing it better.

For modern readers, A Wizard of Earthsea will probably feel a little detached.  It has the same cautious distance as things like The Lord of the Rings which was common in fantasy up until very recently.  The magic is described a little throughout the book, but never so much as to bore and never in big heaping chunks.  And while maybe we don’t spend a lot of time on many of the characters, you get a sense for them very quickly.  Le Guin does a marvelous job of making her characters distinct.  I’m looking for something in A Wizard of Earthsea to criticize, and honestly… I’m coming up empty.  Anything to judge in this book – its style, its use of tropes, were all fresh in the 1960s and need to be addressed as such – wizarding schools and Margan le Fay-esque anti-heroines may feel exhausted now, but when fantasy was still struggling and budding as a genre, these things were fresh and new and clever.  Over the years we’ve just loved them to death.

I think A Wizard of Earthsea translates well into modern YA, with Ged starting quite young at the beginning and into what I perceived as new adulthood by the end of this book.  The writing is a little simple, but not unenjoyable so, and not enough to push it into a middle grade feel.

Just… this was fun, okay?  I enjoyed it.  It’s a return to form to my favorite styles in my favorite genre and I was so delighted to read it.  Book two is already on my TBR.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★★
Narrator: ★★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★★

5 Star Rating

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Are there any “classic” books in your favorite genre you’ve been meaning to read?  Which ones?  Do you think they have/will hold up to modern expectations?  Let me know in the comments!

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2 responses to “A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

    • Amber

      I had such LOW expectations going in because of that previous read, so that may have helped! I’m also learning a bit to separate older fantasy from newer. It’s far simpler than what’s written now, but it helped define the genre, so makes sense! 🙂 Sometimes it’s interesting to go back and reread old books you didn’t like… but other times it’s still disappointing. 🙁