Tuesday, July 12, 2016

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

There are so many books that have already been printed in the world with many more being printed as you read this! So of course it's not uncommon for people to not have read "classics" in any genre. I for one, have tended to read more modern literature rather than the classics, but there is one classic that I have always wanted to read: A Wizard of Earthsea. 

A Wizard of Earthsea is fantasy at its best. Written for a juvenile audience, it nonetheless contains rich language and world building the likes of which can be compared to the Lord of the Rings. I picked up a copy at my local library that was added to our collection in 2004. The picture to the right is of the library book I checked out and you can see how its cover is very traditional, immediately marking it as an older release. I loved this book though because when you hold it in your hands you still get that "new book" smell and as a hardcover that was the size of a paperback, it was not only easy to carry, but still made a loud "thud" noise when I closed it. Yeah, yeah, I know, typical book geek details, but I couldn't help but point it out :p

A Wizard of Earthsea follows our hero Sparrowhawk, a young magician-in-training that has little patience with the finer details of the art. Rather than learn as much as he can, he's more concerned with learning greater and better things. His ambition eventually leads him to recklessly call upon a soul from the dead and unleash a terrible shadow in the world. Sparrowhawk must now learn all he can in order to defeat the shadow and prevent it from wrecking havoc in Earthsea.

Like I said before, this book contains rich language that really kept me enthralled throughout. The system of magic is interesting and I liked that knowing the true name of something gives you ultimate control over it. It's like truly knowing a person, and therefore, knowing all of their strengths and weaknesses. But true names aren't only to control, they're also given to those you trust the most, as not only a token of that trust, but as an assurance that when needed, they will answer. As a classic coming-of-age novel, the cast for this book is not extensive. Many characters are mentioned in passing but few contribute substantially to the plot. The book reads as if someone were retelling the story and begins with an introduction of Sparrowhawk as the "greatest voyager and mage" and says that the story you will read is of the time before his fame. The language used in this book does an excellent job of sounding like an ancient oral tradition and lends to the fantasy elements of the story.

Throughout the book, I thought of it as a strong 4, but when I finished reading it, I was so mind blown by the ending, that I had to bump it up to a 5. There's so much depth to what that end is trying to portray and how it ties back to the source of magic: a true name. It's a coming-of-age novel in every sense of the world, beyond just learned the consequences of too much ambition. The ultimate lesson from this book is that in order to overcome your shortcomings and become a better you, you must first know who you are. This lesson is conveyed in such a meaningful and symbolic manner that gah - I can't say much more but read it. As a 20-something year old reading it, I can't imagine what kind of effect this book would have on its intended audience (pre-teens and teens), but I know that had I read this as a teen, I would have been deeply impacted by it.

As the first tale of Sparrowhawk and the first time I have read a work by Le Guin, I am throughly satisfied. I can't wait to return to Earthsea and learn more about its vast lands and magic and see Sparrowhawk become the greatest mage of them all.


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