I’m sorry to say that this is the weakest book of the trilogy. There is a fourth book that is weaker still, that I’ve chosen not to re-read (it was written much later). The problem with both is that there is too much overt preachiness.
In the first and second books, a reader comes away feeling humble because the protagonist becomes so humble in his/her journey, and because he/she is so admirable. In this book, we are repeatedly told what to feel (the theme is the fear of death, and the lengths some people will go to to fight against the inevitable). The fourth book is worse; I ended up feeling that the author was telling me that men are inferior to women.
But this book is still very good. Arren is a young prince who comes to Earthsea’s wizarding community to report that wizards on his distant island are forgetting their craft, and no-one knows why. He is so impressed by the archmage that he immediately pledges himself to serve him, unconditionally. Magic appears to be disappearing from all around the world, so the archmage takes the little information he has, and the not-very-magical young man, and goes on a journey to try and find out what has gone wrong with the world.
It is a harder book to read than the others, not just because of the preachiness, but because of the sense of despair hanging over all Earthsea. But the archmage’s company is wonderful, and Arren is a fascinating and extremely relatable character. I love his abrupt and passionate vow to serve an old man – and I love that he is a mix of courage and self-doubt. This book is his coming of age story, and it is a good one. The same gorgeous lyrical writing style makes the journey of the book beautiful, and the pages shine with gentleness and wisdom.
Free sample (when Arren vows to serve):
%%Arren was an active boy, delighting in games, taking pride and pleasure in the skills of body and mind, apt at his duties of ceremony and governing, which were neither light nor simple. Yet he had never given himself entirely to anything. . . .
So the first step out of childhood is made all at once, without looking before or behind, without caution, and nothing held in reserve.
Forgetting courtly farewells he hurried to the doorway, awkward, radiant, obedient. And the Archmage watched him go.%%