I’ll be reviewing Ursula LeGuin’s whole Earthsea trilogy* over the next few weeks. This is the first book.
When I was eighteen, I invented a wonderful world based on the Indonesian archipelago. It contained literally thousands of islands, and hundreds of diverse cultures. When I first read the Earthsea books several years later, I discovered that not only had my archipelago idea already been done, it had been done by a masterful writer who was already a classic. Fie upon you, LeGuin! You preemptively stole my idea and had the gall to do it better than me. (Although I HAVE just had a publication offer for the first book in my trilogy, so I suppose I forgive you.)
So: the world is excellent, and the writing is beautiful. Not everyone will enjoy the writing, because it does have the pacing of the late 60s rather than today. However, while I normally find old-fashioned pacing very dull, LeGuin’s writing sucks me in and I simply float along inside it, perfectly content.
This book is about Ged, who is destined to be a great wizard – possibly the greatest Earthsea has ever seen. But he is just a boy, and he makes mistakes. His innate powers are so great that his pride is far more dangerous than the pride of any other mortal. . . and soon enough he has released a horror on the world that only he has the slightest chance at stopping. It will almost certainly cost his life, or the life of his one true friend – and his mistake has already killed the previous archmage. And so begins a mystical journey to Ged’s greatest enemy.
“Mystical” implies “otherworldly” which implies – well, it makes it sound a bit airy fairy and dull. It isn’t. His journey is quite physical, and LeGuin is a writer who never lets her readers feel removed from the smell and touch and taste of her world.
Some classics are best forgotten. This series deserves its place.
Free sample (the opening paragraph):
The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards. From the towns in its high valleys and the ports on its dark narrow bays many a Gontishman has gone forth to serve the Lords of the Archipelago in their cities as wizard or mage, or, looking for adventure, to wander working magic from isle to isle of all Earthsea.
Rating: G. These books are good for any age (except for the fourth, which gets preachy over feminism and is dull as a result), and in fact each of the three I’ll be reviewing is a coming of age tale in its own right – and they can each stand alone easily.
What’s that you say? There’s a fourth book? Yeah, I don’t like it. Some books don’t deserve to be written, and that’s one of them.