Review: The Farthest Shore (The Earthsea Quartet) by Ursula K Le Guin

‘This is. And thou art. There is no safety. There is no end. The word must be heard in silence. There must be darkness to see the stars. The dance is always danced above the hollow place, above the terrible abyss.’

Look. It’s me, Hedwig/Kayleigh, still following a TBR I set myself. How you may I ask? I would like to say I have grown more consistent and better at time management but you all know it’s a lie. It’s because I started with possibly one of my new favourite series of all time and this one in particular made me cry. Read on to know why a 27 year old cried over an old wizard.

Darkness threatens to overtake Earthsea: the world and its wizards are losing their magic. Despite being wearied with age, Ged Sparrowhawk – Archmage, wizard, and dragonlord — embarks on a daring, treacherous journey, accompanied by Enlad’s young Prince Arren, to discover the reasons behind this devastating pattern of loss. Together they will sail to the farthest reaches of their world — even beyond the realm of death – as they seek to restore magic to a land desperately thirsty for it.

So this for some people is the end of the Earthsea original series since the next book, ‘Tehanu’ wasn’t published for another 18 years after this book and it follows Tenar as the protagonist. But this review isn’t about that. The Farthest Shore is one of the most wonderful, heartwarming books I’ve read this year. If you only read as far as it, I wager you would be satisfied with this wonderful series.

Similar to the previous story, we aren’t following Ged’s perspective but another younger character who’s story is directly tied to him. We meet Arren, the prince and heir to Enlad, on his way to Ged, now the Archmage on the island of Roke the home of the wizards of Earthsea. Once again we see Ged decades after the end of the previous story and further into his maturity. This time, Ged is a weary old man, unwilling to give into impulse and leave the magically secured island. As the conclusion to his story, this book truly delivers for a narrative and emotional standpoint.

I listened to this on audio book for the sake of convenience and I truly enjoyed it far more for it. The narrator, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, managed both the young lilt of Arren and the gravelly tone Ged now speaks with after many years of travel. His narration adds fantastically to the world building as Arren and Ged travel around the smaller islands of the archipelago where they meet those further and further away from the main civilisation. What I was really impressed with and that made me really feel the magical awe for Earthsea is how he narrates the dragons. That alone was some of my favourite parts of the audio book.

What really touched me however and is still living in my feelings at this moment in time is the relationship between Arren and Ged. We watch Ged again through the eyes of a young characters on the edge of their life and see just how much the wizard changes their life for the better, despite his world weary of himself. One moment that really tuck with me was at the start of the story was after Arren meets Ged for the first time he declares that he loves the wizard in that very meeting. Le guin being the great challenger of norms had me considering this as a more romantic love than a platonic one and I find it hard not to think that still.

Granted, if this was true this could very easily fall prey to the harmful trope of a younger queer man being groomed by a much older one. That to me is truly where the genius of Le Guin and her writing lies. She handles this in a way that it becomes clear as the novel goes on that the love Arren feels for Ged is more platonic and bordering on familial but as he matures, it could possibly be a teen falling “in love” with a role model. I could be grabbing at straws slightly here since Le Guin did tend to not queer bait or code her characters but I still thought it an interesting potential of their relationships.

The stakes are definitely higher in this book than any of the others in the series. Magic is literally dying. There are hundreds of people losing their gifts across this world and dying in many more as a result. Ged at one stage meeting a desperate wizard who has lost a limb and his life as a result of this happening being the true sign to him that this isn’t some silly task to please a prince. Magic is going missing and noone, even the dragons, know how. The eventual climax, meeting of the adversary of Ged causing this, not only brings the book to a very cathartic end but mirrors Ged’s mission of the first book beautifully. Sometimes callbacks can be a little cheap in endings so it can be hard to do but you really feel a strong sense that Ged has always been prepared for this.

I honestly can’t find a single complaint for the book or how it closes off Ged’s story. Where the usual things that would disengage me from a story (plots being fairly nonexistent for a chunk of the book, characters having very out of place emotional turns, convenient plot devices) but everything in this story served a purpose, no matter how small.

It’s taken me days to review this coherently so I hope it all makes sense. My TBR project has been going a little slower than I thought with being busy in work and generally being in a near slump. I am half dreading to finally finish with the last book but I know the satisfaction of finishing the series will be fabulous. Thanks for checking in, happy reading everyone!

★★★★★/5

4 thoughts on “Review: The Farthest Shore (The Earthsea Quartet) by Ursula K Le Guin

  1. Nice review. I’s like to reread the series one day. I read up to this book and stopped because I thought it was the end. I didn’t like it as much as you did, but I thought it was an interesting read, and I can’t believe I forgot about the dragons! For that alone I need to reread it. For some reason, I thought it was preachy and Arren wasn’t given enough agency…I forgot why I thought that. Definitely need to reread it and/or read my review of it, lol.

    Like

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