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.
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.
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?