Book Review: Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin

Warning! Since this is Book Four in the Earthsea Cycle, there will be some spoilers for the first three books in the series.

Synopsis: Tenar has adopted a burned, abused girl named Therru. Tenar hears that Ogion is dying, so she travels to see him one last time. Ged also travels to see Ogion.

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Review: I loved the first three Earthsea books; they were my favorite books that I read last year. While Tehanu is good, it doesn’t live up to the perfection of the first three books.

Published 18 years after the previous Earthsea book, all of the main characters return in Tehanu. We have Tenar, working away on a farm, Ged comes into the story, and we also see Lebannen, the young king. While these characters are great, for me, they were the only things that tied Tehanu to the original trilogy. Without those characters, I wouldn’t have recognized this book as belonging to the Earthsea Cycle. There’s barely any magic in this book. There is mention of magic, and it is talked about, but you don’t actually see it performed, which was disappointing to me.

There is also a plotline with an abused child that Tenar saves, and while this was a compelling plot, unfortunately it felt like it was a modern plot point plopped into a book where it just didn’t fit. It’s almost like this was two separate books merged into one. One modern book about abuse and gender, and another book being an ageless fantasy tale, with hardly any fantasy. (But there is a dragon, so those scenes were wonderful.) I wouldn’t have minded the plot had the first three books contained something similar, but they didn’t, so it felt like it didn’t fit with the series.

Another difference in Tehanu is that it is a lot longer than the other books. My copy of Tehanu is 252 pages long. By comparison, my copy of A Wizard of Earthsea is 182 pages long, The Tombs of Atuan 155 pages, and The Farthest Shore is 197 pages long. Where I felt the original trilogy was refreshing to read in that there was absolutely no filler in the books, Tehanu felt like it had a lot of filler. I found myself skipping over sections, or not paying attention, and what is worse: not needing to pay attention. Not much actually happens, and it feels like a setup for a future book.

While the writing isn’t bad in any way (Ursula K. Le Guin is a fabulous writer), I thought this book could’ve been trimmed by 50 pages or so. Tehanu took a paragraph to say what was said in one sentence in the first three books. Now, had I not read the first books prior to reading this one, I don’t know that I would’ve felt that way. But when you compare them side-by-side, it’s hard not to.

We also get some romance in the book, which felt a bit out of place. There was zero romance in the earlier books, which was refreshing to read, and in this one the romance is believable, but I don’t feel it was necessary.

So, all things considered, while I enjoyed returning to Earthsea, I was disappointed with this installment, because I loved the first three books so much.

Bottom Line: Fans of Earthsea will enjoy the return, but it pales in comparison to the original trilogy.

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If you are interested, here are links to my reviews of the previous books in the Earthsea Cycle:

 Have you read the Earthsea Cycle? How did you feel about Tehanu?


11 thoughts on “Book Review: Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin

    1. Thanks! The Earthsea Cycle is definitely a classic in the fantasy genre. The first book, A Wizard of Earthsea, was published in 1968. They are marvelous little books. Definitely a must read if you like fantasy!

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        1. Hmmm… crime fiction. I wasn’t planning on it, but I honestly never know what I’m going to read next! My choices are very random, and many times I’ll pick a book up to set it down and start something completely different. I haven’t read any actual crime fiction in awhile, just mysteries. Do you have any crime fiction recommendations?

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          1. I am a huge fan of spy and crime fiction, something which you can see from the books I have reviewed on the blog. You can start off with anyone of those. Other than them, I’d recommend Val McDermid. She’s Scottish I guess. I read her “The Distant Echo” some years back. Very good. “The Wire In The Blood” is on the TBR list. Plus, any book from the Lucas Davenport series by John Sandford (I reviewed his “Field Of Prey” here). That series is awesome, with just the right dash of dry humour. You must already have read “The Girl on The Train” by Paula Hawkins. Then there’s the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. Oh, this is an endlessly exciting list. 🙂

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            1. Thank you for the recommendations! A lot of these sound interesting and I’ve added them to my TBR. I’ve read The Girl on the Train (didn’t love it), and am just getting into Agatha Christie. I’m starting with the Poirot books and believe I’m on book 5. Your recommendations somewhat remind me of the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child. I’m only on book 3 of that series. I’ve got a bunch of series that I’ve started but haven’t finished yet, as I don’t like reading the same author back-to-back. Thanks again for the recommendations!!

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              1. I read Killing Floor, the 1st book in the Jack Reacher series and frankly, it was a bit underwhelming for me. So I have shelved plans to read the series further.
                It’s a shame you didn’t like TGOTT. Never mind, I think the Christie books have captured your imagination. If you’re into spy fiction, which I think is unlikely, I’d strongly recommend Len Deighton’s books to you, particularly the Bernard Samson series. It is one of the best of all time.
                🙂

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                1. I don’t think I’ve ever actually read anything categorized as spy fiction. I’ve seen the movie Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and loved it and that’s probably the closest I’ve gotten. The John le Carre books are on my TBR stack, there are just so many books to read and I always end up grabbing something else. I did put the Bernard Samson on my TBR stack.
                  I kind of agree with you on Jack Reacher – it’s funny but whenever I carry one of those books around, I get so many comments from random strangers all saying how much they love those books. Book Two definitely had a “wow Jack Reacher is AWESOME” moment, but the plots have been a little far-fetched. I think I read book two sometime either early last year or the year before, so you can see how quickly I’ve gotten to book three.

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                  1. That film was awesome, and it led me to discover John le Carre’s works. I have already read two of his books in the George Smiley series (reviewed A Murder of Quality a couple of weeks back) and will read the rest too. Bernard Samson, well, that whole 10-book saga is so rich both in its own mythology and the various characters’ designs and ideologies that I can bet you’ll love it. If you are interested in plots that keep confounding you as you go deeper, try Robert Ludlum’s books.
                    I think you probably love the Jack Reacher series. Jumping to the third book within a year is proof of that. You can check the review for Killing Floor on my blog. I do agree, the plot was a bit out there. But then, it’s fiction so, you know, everything burns.

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