Earthsea Cycle, #1: A Wizard of Earthsea (BOOK REVIEW)

A Wizard of Earthsea, the first novel in Ursula K. Le Guin’s young-adult fantasy series, the Earthsea Cycle, is considered a classic amongst classics. Often declared as influential as some works by Tolkien are, the 1968 novel is the first of Le Guin’s works I’ve had the chance to dive into. And although it stands the test of time remarkably, it feels as though it bows under the weight of the era’s restricting publishing limitations.

It’s super short. At only 56,000 words, it’s as short as fantasy novels come. To put it into perspective, that’s just a smidge longer than Gaiman’s almost novella/accidental novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. But within its length of time I never feel like I get to know the character of Ged, formerly Sparrowhawk. I rarely get to feel what he’s feeling. Stuff happens, he reacts, and then a year later some other stuff happens and he reacts. When the book is at its slowest, near the middle, it’s at its strongest. I need my fantasies fleshed out.

That’s not to say Le Guin didn’t flesh out other aspects. She has a remarkable grasp on regional divides such as language, accent and culture, each nation speaking things completely different. The worldbuilding here felt the most natural to me. This is an author who understands her world and the people within it more than many understand the world they live in.

This is the first book to heavily feature a wizarding school, a staple for many fantasy books in recent memory, namely the Harry Potter series. But again, everything happens so quickly that you don’t get a feel of the setting until Ged’s just about ready to leave the school. It’s at that point in the story where the novel finds its purpose, though it hints at it throughout much of the beginning. Ged unleashes a shadow unto the world while in a duel – an evil thing that will eventually hunt him down. Unless he hunts it down first.

The usage of naming as a magical power is done particularly well here. As far as I’m aware this is also the first book to use naming as a magical tool, paving the way for countless other fantasies, including The Name of the Wind. One must discover a things true name to have mastery over it, not just what a thing is called.

Ursula’s use of language is poetic, and often the story tells itself like The Odyssey would, for better or worse. In fact, that’s probably the closest comparison that can be had for Ged and his travels. He faces many trials, on distant shores, with unbelievable evils, and the story structure is very similar. The major difference is there was a larger cast of characters in the Odyssey.

The ending was extremely satisfying, despite it all. A proper resolution to an arc that would have taken most authors a whole trilogy, a prequel book, and several other short stories. Although this wasn’t my particular cup of tea, I enjoyed it plenty. As a young adult novel in the ’60s, I understand that there were restrictions on a book’s length, but this certainly hampered my enjoyment slightly, as it often felt truncated and/or abridged. But I can certainly see how this has influenced many an author to take her ideas and flesh them out into bigger concepts, which is interesting. Give this book a shot!

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9 thoughts on “Earthsea Cycle, #1: A Wizard of Earthsea (BOOK REVIEW)

  1. Hi,
    do you mind checking your Spam folder? I commented something yesterday, but it’s not shown here.
    Let me know if you found it or not, if it’s the latter I can write it again and you can delete this comment.
    Thanks in advance!


  2. I loved Wizard of Earthsea, and the Earthsea original trilogy were the best books I read all last year. I’ve yet to dive into Tehanu, the 4th book. What I loved about Wizard of Earthsea and LeGuin’s writing, is that every word felt necessary to the story. Each word had weight. There was no extra fluff, no unnecessary scenes. So, reading it was very refreshing, and even though it was short, it seemed to take me longer to read since there were no sections to skim over. I’m interested to read her science fiction books – I’ve heard those are really good!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Earthsea Chronicles are one of those books that I first watched as a movie before I discovered that it was a book.
    Then two years ago I went to a book hotel (if you want a read about it click here) and one of the few fantasy books I found there was the trilogy in one volume and I started reading it.

    I found myself quite captured by this book. The idea of the names fascinated me since I saw the movie and here it was covered more thoroughly and that was great.
    But I agree: It could have been way longer.

    I’m curious about your review for the Tombs of Atuan though. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, found this in my spam folder. Apologies. That’s a great story. And an even cooler experience. I didn’t realize book hotels even existed! That’s nuts. I’ve got to go to one!

      It’s interesting how the memories of stories take us to different places and experiences in our lives. Excellent post. Thank you for sharing it.

      And from what I’ve heard, the Tombs of Atuan is even better. So I’ll be picking it up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for looking at the post and into the spam folder, I was afraid it ended up there (hence the other comment)! 🙂

        I don’t know how common they are in the States, but I think there are at least a few here in Germany and the one I wrote about was the first of its kind here and it’s just a magical place. If you have the chance to go to something like that, do it! 🙂

        I kind of feel, that if you don’t remember something from the reading of the book you have a weird reading style and simply run through the story as if it’s a chore…

        As I said, I’m looking forward to your review about the Tombs, I didn’t really like it, but maybe you find other aspects that I couldn’t see.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I liked Wizard of Earthsea, but I think I preferred the Tombs of Atuan (the second book). It’s a little more story driven rather than world and character driven. (Though she is fantastic at world-building.) Mostly, after reading some Le Guin, I find myself dwelling on the ideas of her books. She’s great at providing a very thought-provoking story, even if it’s not super compelling.

    Liked by 1 person

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