Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
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.
Apart from the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, this is the oldest published fantasy book I’ve read. First published in 1968, I’ve never read Le Guin before and thought Earthsea would be a good place to start.
I’m a big supporter of new SFF and the majority of what I read was written within the last few years, but I do want a little more understanding of where fantasy has come from, the works that inspired what came later and in this case to experience a classic of the genre.
Part way in I actually started to think, “yeah this is nothing new; I’ve seen this trope here and there, this other trope in other places.” Then I remembered I’m reading a book that is 40 years old and often labelled as one of the seminal fantasy works that influenced so much of what was to come.
There are a number of elements that some pretty famous works have borrowed – mastery over something by knowing it’s true name, anyone? Hmm! I was taken a back a little bit at this and how ahead of its time this book probably was. Most of our main characters have dark skin for instance, including our protagonist, Ged – also known as Sparrowhawk. I imagine in the 1960s there weren’t many BAME protagonists, especially in the white male dominated fantasy genre of the time.
You can tell a little from the writing style that this isn’t a new book, but I quite liked that. I did find the lack of a comma in multiple places a little jarring but I don’t know if that’s the writing or the ebook conversion.
Something that surprised me – seeing as I went into this thinking it was a book suitable for kids (I don’t think it is suitable for younger kids) is that it was quite scary! Parts genuinely creeped me out and that was unexpectedly exciting as I love a good fictional scare. This actually forms the basis of most of the plot in the form of an ominous shadow creature Ged accidentally releases into the world.
The other main theme is a coming of age tale really and how pride can be the downfall of anyone, no matter how powerful. I also didn’t realise until part way in that this is only 161 pages so it felt like a quick read, and there is a lot of fun, world and character building crammed into these pages. What I found interesting is that Le Guin tells the reader that Sparrowhawk eventually becomes an all powerful wizard and achieved this and that. So in a way although this is the first book of Earthsea, it actually feels like a prequel. As if the main story has been written and then this was the origins story. It doesn’t act as a detriment to the story, I just found it an interesting way to do things.
There are quite a lot of events that happen in the story, which will work for some and not others. Being a shorter book, it’s inevitable that whatever event happens in the plot, it is wrapped up and moved on from within say 10 or 20 pages. This contributes to a fast pace but of course, for readers who appreciate a little more depth and description when it comes to plot points, it may not suit.
For me personally, I don’t only enjoy one style and this worked well in expanding the world and the goings on within it in a short space of time.
I’m really glad I read this and it’s definitely added weight to my inner argument with myself over buying the illustrated edition of the whole collection, which looks beautiful!
Thanks for reading!