In the world of Epic Fantasy there are two series of books that stand above all the rest as masterpieces. Lord of the Rings is one of those series. The Earthsea Series by Ursula K. LeGuin is the other. This is a review of the first book in the Earthsea series A Wizard of Earthsea.
As far as fantasy novels go this is a bit counter to the norm. This book weighs in at less than two hundred pages which in today's world is less than half the size of a typical fantasy book. Yet, it is extremely rich and textured with a beautiful story and remarkable themes.
The basic setting for the story is a coming of age story about a young boy named Ged who goes off to wizard school to achieve his potential. Sounds rather familiar? Maybe so but this is where the familiarity ends. The world in which we travel (Earthsea) is an archipelago of different islands and a lot of the story involves travel by boat from island to island and often times Ged travels in a small boat alone using magic to fill the small sail and propel him onward in his travels and his quest.
The book is rich with mythological themes and ideas and one of the central themes is the naming of things. Wizards in Earthsea understand that if you know the true name of a thing you can control it and much of their time is spent learning the true names of things. This skill is critical when Ged, in his little sailboat, faces his first dragon. The book also covers some importance of controlling power, the dangers of pride, and the importance of facing yourself and all your flaws truthfully.It is suitable for children and for adults alike and it makes superb reading aloud at bed time. But, while there is no explicit violence, there are some mildly dark themes and scenes so as a parent you may want to pre-read it first if your audience is younger than eight.
The Archipelago and the World of Earthsea books
A wizard of Earthsea is the first book in a trilogy of books called the Earthsea cycle. As a book it stands alone and can be read as an individual work. It has a complete story that comes to a resolution at the end. You can purchase this single book and be satisfied that there is no necessity of purchasing more books to find out what happens next. But, once you are introduced to Ged, the Archipelago, and Earthsea you are going to want to continue adventuring in his world. The second book in this first trilogy is The Tombs of Atuan and the third book is The Farthest Shore.
Many years after the publication of this trilogy LeGuin returned to the world of Earthsea with three more novels in the cycle. They are Tehanu, Tales from Earthsea, and The Other Wind which was published in 2001. So there are now six books in the series.
A Wizard of Earthsea is a book that introduces us to a remarkable world of magic, wizards, and dragons that is not just fantasy fun. It is also a thought provoking and sensitively written story. LeGuin has paid close attention to the importance and magic of words in the archipelago and she has done the same with her writing of the book. It will cast a spell of enchantment over you. If you are a fan of fantasy books and you haven't read this one you are in for a treat. This book is the prototype for which much of modern fantasy is based upon. It is a timeless classic.
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