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

Synopsis: A young wizard, Sparrowhawk (true name Ged), learns the ways of magic and releases something dark and terrible that only he can fix. Along the way he discovers friendship and dragons.

Review: Wow. What a book! The story immediately grabbed me and pulled me in. This is a short book, at only 183 pages, and I devoured it. It’s the kind of book where I had to force myself to read it slowly, savoring every word, because I really wanted to race through it and find out what happens. I love books that can do that. The book is written in a way where every word feels important, and every word counts. There isn’t any extra filler in here, and you get a fast-paced story that makes you long for just a little bit more.

The main character is named Ged, which is his true name, which only a few people know him as, most people know him as Sparrowhawk. The story traces Ged’s upbringing, and tutelage under a great mage, Ogion (“he who holds the earthquake on a leash”), and then follows his learnings at the wizard school on Roke. When he’s at Roke, a rivalry with a fellow student occurs, and Ged unleashes something terrible, while experimenting with magic he isn’t ready for and doesn’t understand. I loved Le Guin’s take on magic, how everything needs to be in balance, and how magic can disrupt that balance and there are consequences when magic is abused. It made the book feel more “weighty” and serious, and not just a light fluff read. The ability to do magic is a great responsibility here, and is in sharp contrast to say, Harry Potter, where you can do magic for anything and there are almost no consequences. Another way the magic was interesting was that it needed to be constantly re-done. There is a scene where Ged is “magicking” a boat that is unfit for sailing, and he doesn’t just do one spell and off he goes, he must repeatedly do spells to keep the boat afloat, and this is very draining. It is just a different theory to magic, that I really, really enjoyed reading. Very similar to how magic is in Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.

There are many scenes that I absolutely loved. There is a marvelous scene with dragons, and a great scene where Ged as a young boy saves his village. There are also interesting side characters – a man and woman who have lived for years on a deserted island, the mage Ogion, Ged’s rival Jasper, the interesting Serret and her husband Benderesk, and Yarrow, a young girl, age 14, who has a tiny dragon (a harrekki) as a pet. (Side note: where can I get one of these tiny dragons??!!) And my very favorite character was Ged’s good friend, Vetch, whom he meets at the wizard school and joins him in his adventure. Vetch was just such a great example of friendship, and I hope he (and Yarrow, his sister) is in the other books!

It was interesting to read this book, which was published in 1968, and to see the influence it has had on different writers. You can pull out direct ties to George R.R. Martin (dragons, the character Serret, even how “warging” can affect a person, although Le Guin does not call it that). You can also pull ties to J.K. Rowling, with the wizard’s school, and the wise old mentor that Ged has, and that Ged is scarred by dark magic. (Side note: I honestly have no idea if Le Guin inspired these authors, but the similarities are there, and this book is considered a classic in the fantasy genre). I’m sure there are other influences, but I haven’t read all that much fantasy to be able to list them off. And so many books also go back to J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I really need to read more fantasy!  Are there any books that you think I should read?

Bottom Line: A marvelous, wonderful fantasy novel that everyone should read. I can’t wait to start book two in the series!

Favorite Quotes:

  • “ This sorcery is not a game we play for pleasure or for praise. Think of this: that every word, every act of our Art is said and is done either for good, or for evil. Before you speak or do you must know the price that is to pay!”

  • “The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard’s power of Changing and of Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow….”

  • “You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. And the truth is that as a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do….”

You might like to read:

  • George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series
  • J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
  • and of course, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
  • Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series – a marvelous fantasy series, a bit more on the romantic side. There are 6 in the series so far, and I’ve only read the first 3 books. I adored the first 3 books, and then she wrote more to the series, and I just haven’t gotten around to reading them yet, and want to do a re-read of the first 3 first.

Now I need to read:

  • George MacDonald who greatly influenced C.S. Lewis. MacDonald wrote The Princess and the Goblin, which I can’t remember if I read when I was a kid or not. He also wrote Phantastes and also Lilith, which I’ve never read and are supposed to be wonderful fantasy books. I do know that I read his book The Fisherman’s Lady, when I was in high school, and really enjoyed it and I just never got around to reading the sequel. I know I’ve got a copy of The Fisherman’s Lady, which I think is also known as Malcolm, and also the sequel The Marquis’ Secret, also known as The Marquis of Lossie. I don’t think these are fantasy, but are rather billed as gothic adventures/romance, but I should really like these! Ooh!! Just discovered that on Amazon there is The Collected Works of George MacDonald: The Complete Works PergamonMedia, which is a FREE Kindle download. So I’m downloading that, pronto! I wonder if the language will be difficult in these however, I remember having difficulties with The Fisherman’s Lady.
  • And of course, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve finally gotten around to this series, and finishing all the books was one of my reading goals for 2015. However, it is already almost November, and all I’ve read is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which I absolutely loved, but I’m not sure I never read it when I was younger. Parts of the book I practically had memorized and was experiencing weird déjà vu moments while reading, but I’m not sure if that’s because I had read (and re-read and re-read) the book many times as a kid (how do I forget that?!), or if I just watched over and over a cartoon version of the book (I do remember watching the cartoon).

And now that I’ve gotten this post up I can start reading Book #2, The Tombs of Atuan. I hope the series lives up to the first book.


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