Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin

The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard’s power of Changing and of Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow.’

I am a die hard Le Guin fan for over a year now. Starting my experience of reading her works with ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, I very quickly fell in love and this is now one of my favourite books of all time. I have only read Le Guin’s science fiction and this is my first read of her fantasy epic Earthsea.

‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ begins the story of both Earthsea and Ged who is the greatest sorcerer of Earthsea. Known as Sparrowhawk during his youth, we meet Ged as he grows from boy, to made apprentice to wizard. Along the way we watch him as he learns to confront his own mistakes and learns truly what balance means as bot ha made and a young man.

I LOVED this so much. I read it on my commute mostly and honestly was annoyed when I had to get off the bus and actually go to work (RUDE). I was aware going into this, despite my love of Le Guin’s writing that this was a classic fantasy with a male lead and my have all the tropes that I am sick of. Nope. Not. At. ALL.

For a start, I can picture Earthsea as a place so perfectly in my head. It’s always a huge indicator of my enjoyment of a world built by an author when I can see, smell and hear the world within the first few pages. This is the same distinct feeling I get from some of my favourites like Discworld, Hogwarts and Tortall. I get the distinct impression that this world as a structure mattered so much more to Le Guin as she began writing first. And apparently, this is correct as she began by drawing the map before she wrote the book.

Something else that never gets talked about definitely due to white washung within the publishing industry is that Ged, Sparrowhawk, the main protagonist, is not white. Neither is most of the wide cast of characters we encounter on his journey across Earthsea. This is another thing Le Guin spoke about at length and what prevented her from allowing illustrated versions of the books happening.

Ged is honestly one of my new favourite characters in fantasy. He is incredibly developed throughout this book. He learns so much and he still makes huge mistakes. He is flawed but in the end is a very kind and caring soul with a strong moral compass. He values those around him very dearly while also growing with the knowledge that people are at the end of the day entitled to be both good and bad at the same time.

I found there were so many notable quotes in this book aswell. There is a whole discussion between Ged and his mentor, Ogion, that I quote at the start of my review. The discussion that there is light and dark in all of us. There is this strong lesson that we are incredibly flawed beings (whether magically gifted or not) and we need to embrace that side of ourselves and we will in turn become more powerful. Ged is not like other fantasy protagonists in that he had to work to become this legendary wizard, he had to take journeys, perilous pilgrimages and risks to get where he is. He also has to learn to embrace that side of himself to learn these things.

The plot is not one we have not seen before, magical wizard travelling alone and taking on tasks. It’s even the basic plot of The Witcher TV series (which I did love). Yet, in the hands of Le Guin and her ability to craft such warm, tender stories with rich expansive worlds, it’s a story of vulnerability. It’s a story of learning to reclaim the power within with rich diverse characters that is more relevant today than ever. It is actually a story for teens so it is technically one of the YA books that came before the eruption of the YA genre if that interests you.

I’ll be very quickly continuing this series out of both a need to know what happens to Ged as well as my intention to read the rest of the Le Guin books I own (it’s a lot okay?). I would honestly recommend this to anyone who loves classic fantasy or wants to ease their way into Le Guin’s bibliography. Do tell me if you have read this, if not then please do! Happy reading all!

★★★★★/5

6 thoughts on “Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin

  1. Hi! I see this edition of Wizard of Earthsea has illustrations by Charles Vess! Do they have the same illustrations in color as the fully illustrated collection Books of Earthsea? Or are his pictures only in grayscale here?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh wonderful!! I was really hoping the individual novels would have some of his color illustrations as well, but I couldn’t find any photos online! Thank you for the reply.

    Liked by 1 person

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