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

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read for the Women of Genre Fiction Challenge, the Grand Mistresses of Genre Fiction Challenge, and the High Fantasy Challenge.

My reading pace has slowed as writing deadlines have piled up on me. Writing is a bit of a feeding frenzy that way; feast or famine. So I’ve mainly been reading this in the bathroom, and it took a while to get started.

I read this classic novel for the first time when I was about twelve I think? I don’t think I really grasped it then. You would think it would be YA fiction, and it certainly starts out that way, so much so that my interest waned for about the first half of it. Perhaps this is better when you’re younger, I thought to myself, because it seemed the same old formula that was probably new when Le Guin did it but has now become a trope; boy is born a wizard, comes from difficult, poor, and somewhat neglected circumstances to a school of wizards, where he learns the Art and develops a rivalry with a young jerk who is wealthier than he is. Yawn.

But unlike every other novel you’ve read, where the young hero Does Good until finally he defeats the bad guy, this young wizard fails his first test of ethics, and thus is Le Guin’s genius revealed, as the rest of the book involves his efforts to put things to rights. Before our eyes, and in a very few pages, our protagonist Ged grows from a boy to a man, making an adult’s ethical and moral decisions along the way. The ending is as highly satisfying as it is beautiful, and only the protagonist and his best friend know the true story; his fame is not spread throughout the land, but his quiet act of heroism is no less glorious.

It is clear that Mercedes Lackey had this story in her head when she wrote The Last Herald-Mage of Valdemar (a favourite series of mine,) as did J.K. Rowling when she created Harry Potter. Le Guin proves again that she deserves her place among the Grand Masters of Science Fiction, and I can only tip my hat to her in awe.

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