Review: The Wizard of Earthsea

The Wizard of Earthsea by Urula Le Guin

16029682Series: Earthsea Cycle
Genre: Fantasy
Maturity Level: 1
View on Goodreads
Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

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.

The Wizard of Earthsea is a beautiful book that just isn’t for me.

I mean, you want to talk about classic fantasy literature, you got it right here. Reading this for the first time in 2018 it was impossible not to notice how obviously Earthsea affected, well, EVERYTHING. The story was simple but meaningful. Everything about it was so lovely.

But I just didn’t connect with the writing style. It’s written more like a Bible story or a Greek epic poem than like a novel. Dialogue, for example, was almost non-existent. Descriptions were limited and saved usually for creatures. And in general I just felt as though it was sparse. And like in a Bible story, narratives moved over the course of weeks or months, not minutes or hours. I don’t want anyone to think I’m criticizing this, because I’m not. It just didn’t work for me. Tolkien-lover through and through!

Ged sets the stage perfectly for every arrogant, uber-talented hero you’ve ever read a story about. I saw so much of Kvothe from The Name of the Wind in Ged, but of course, Urusla Le Guin did it first. What I like about Ged is that he didn’t really start arrogant, but ended up being arrogant because he was more powerful than everyone else. His whole journey is about learning that absolute power corrupts absolutely. He learns that just because you have power doesn’t necessarily mean you should use it. I loved that.

I also loved Earthsea itself. What a cool fantasy world! Instead of your typical Westeros or Middle Earth giant continent, Earthsea is a realm of islands. Everyone goes about by boat, and children can sail as well as they can walk. The people of Earthsea are all people of color, ranging in tone depending on where they live. Interestingly, the darker skinned people live in the north, while those living in the east were the only people with pale skin. The magic in Earthsea is also very unique, and I wish we had learned more about it. But, like I said, sparse. I also wanted more creatures! Ged has this little tiny furry animal called an Otak that I absolutely loved, and there were talking dragons! Also tiny dragons. But like with the magic, things were just mentioned in tantalizing snippets.

So I guess what I’m finding out is that I didn’t love this book because I didn’t get enough of the aspects of fantasy novels I love. But I can’t not recommend this book for fantasy lovers. It’s beautiful, it’s touching, and it features friendship instead of romance for the win.

23 thoughts on “Review: The Wizard of Earthsea

  1. I’m glad that I’m not the only one who didn’t care for Earthsea. Like you, I can see why people like it, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. I feel like having a compelling plot was a relatively low priority (well below worldbuilding and philosophizing) as the author was writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, totally agree…I probably should have said “plot told in a compelling manner” because the bare bones style didn’t work for me. I felt like all three books of the original trilogy were far more interested in Ged philosophizing than in telling us what he actually DID (aside from a vague description of expending tremendous amounts of magic willpower) when saving the day. It’s also been a while since I read them so I’m murky on the details that were there and just remember the general dissatisfaction with how the stories were told 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Definitely agree. “Bare bones” style is a real good descriptor, and it didn’t work at all for me, either. Like I said, I’m a Tolkien fan. I’d rather get 1,000 pages with waaaaaaay to much detail. I want dialogue. I want descriptions. I want to know what smart-ass thing Ged said, and how he got completely shut down. I want to know more about the dragons. Are there MORE dragons? I just wanted more and never got it.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember a lot of people comparing this to Harry Potter (if I remember correctly) so I am really glad that you read and reviewed it so that I didn’t have to :] It has always peaked my curiosity (as any book compared to Harry Potter does) but didn’t seem like it would be for me. Great review though!

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  3. I had the exact same issues with Earthsea… It is a classic, and I could see why… But there was just no connection to the world or the characters for me. I struggled with it. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Really? I loved this book. You are right that they don’t follow the usual pattern or style of fantasy, but that is one of the big reasons why I love Earthsea. I like that there is no dark wizard trying to conquer the earth, like every other fantasy story. Although The Farthest Shore does have that plot… Either way I would recommend watching the Studio Ghibli animated movie before reading these. It gives a good summary of the story and lets you get to know the characters a bit. I understand your reservations, but I like it for the same reasons.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s always cool to read something that’s a little different! Don’t get me wrong, I can completely understand why so many people love this book. I just didn’t personally connect with the style. And, honestly, I expect I am in the minority here. There’s just no accounting for me, what I like and what I don’t often just seems so random.

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  5. I really love this book, but I can totally understand why the sparse writing style wasn’t for you. I really liked that aspect of it, where every word used felt important and there wasn’t any filler at all, but I liked that because it is so different than what is out there today, especially in fantasy. I love the point you bring up about how Earthsea has influenced everything. You can really see her influence in A Song of Ice and Fire and Harry Potter, and a lot of other books as well. I loved how the magic was different here, and I also loved those dragons! There are more dragons in book three, The Farthest Shore. The writing style stays the same throughout the series, so if you weren’t into it in this one you may not want to read on.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The new Illustrated Edition for the entire Earthsea Cycle is stunning though. I am so glad to have it in my collection. Your opinions and reasonings are sound, and are definitely true for this series, but I can also say/agree that they are important in the historical context of fantasy literature. I haven’t reread Wizard of Earthsea in a while, and I don’t think I’ve made it to a reread of the rest of the series for a very long time.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve had real problems with Le Guin’s writing style too- so I’m honestly glad I’m not the only one that can’t get into it, makes me feel less bad 😉 hehe Tolkien girl through and through here too. It is a cool world- I just wish I could connect with it too. Awesome review!

    Liked by 1 person

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