Book Review

Series Review: The Earthsea Trilogy

I have many series that need to be finished and, let’s face it, I have to start most of them over to do so. When Tehanu came up for my TBR Tear Down, I knew I’d have to start the series over, as I hadn’t read the original Earthsea Trilogy since high school. So, I embarked on my re-read of the trilogy.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
My Edition: Paperback – 183 pages – 1977 – Bantam Books – ISBN: 0553116096

This is the tale of Ged, a country boy who finds himself on the Isle of Roke where wizards are educated. Eager to learn and riding high on his own powers, Ged, going by the name of Sparrowhawk, foolishly tries to impress his fellow students with a show of magic. Only his pride gets the better of him and his magic goes awry, releasing a dark spirit. He alone must fix his mistake.

I knew I didn’t remember much of this book (or series) from my original read through, other than that I enjoyed it. Turns out, I remembered even less than I thought! Basically, all that was familiar was Ged and some school of magic.

This is a great read for those looking for a character-based fantasy that’s quick and engaging. This is not a book with long paragraphs detailing the history of the realm. There are no chapters detailing the rules of magic and the various types of creatures that inhabit the lands. The story revolves around Ged and his mistake and his journey to fix it. It’s straightforward, yet…not?

This book is really compelling, but hard to describe. If you’re looking for something flashy or a long epic, you won’t find what you’re looking for here. But if, like me, you enjoy those “vintage” fantasy books that focus more on a character and an internal journey, you’ll enjoy this. I don’t know how else to recommend this book, but I think it’s a classic!


The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. LeGuin
My Edition: Paperback – 146 pages – 1977 – Bantam Books – ISBN: 0553116002

Ged’s journey continues, but not before we meet Arha, the Eaten One. Taken from her family at a young age, she has been raised to fulfill her role as high priestess to ancient, nameless gods, as she is the prior priestess reborn. Arha meets Ged when she discovers him trying to rob the tombs she rules over and after she holds him prisoner she faces an important decision.

Man, I’m really rubbish at describing these books. I remembered absolutely zero details from this book, so I was essentially reading it for the first time (which is cool, but also sad because I want to remember every book I read!)

I enjoyed the change of pace in this book. I wasn’t expecting a detour from Ged’s life and at first, I was impatient to get back to him. But Arha and her temples soon caught my interest. I enjoyed a look at life on another island and their archaic ways. I also enjoyed that Ged’s story is a larger one and as readers, we only get bits and pieces of it. We don’t get to see every single step he takes and I’m ok with that.

Ged and Arha’s lives intertwine and as the story progressed, I really wasn’t sure what direction it would go in. There is less magic in this book, but I’m thinking these books are more about personal journeys than fantastical acts of magic anyway.

This series is a slow paced one, but I think the short length of the books keeps them from feeling like a slog. I  didn’t mind the pacing, but something to be mindful of if you’re looking for more action. Another enjoyable read!


The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin
My Edition: Paperback – 197 pages – 1977 – Bantam Books – ISBN: 0553115995

Prince Arren arrives on Roke seeking the wisdom of the archmage because it seems as though magic is disappearing from the world. The Archmage takes it upon himself to leave the island and seek the source of the trouble. And thus, Arren finds himself traveling to the farthest reaches with none other than Ged.

Once again we meet up with Ged after a significant gap in time. It’s not surprising that Ged has become the Archmage, but this time around I did find myself wishing for a bit more backstory. Who knows, maybe one of the other three books touch on this.

Unfortunately the slow pacing and the character-driven plot didn’t work for me here. I was interested in the plot – magic disappearing from the land. Who doesn’t want to read about that?

But the journey was a long one and felt like it mostly took place in Arren’s head. He’s ok, but by far my least favorite character of the series. Ged is very closed-mouthed through much of the book and it created a weird dynamic. I wasn’t really interested until the last two chapters or so, when everything comes to a head.

I’m glad I read it, but this isn’t one I’d be eager to re-read (again.)

~

In all, this is certainly a series I recommend, if you’re looking for something without the fantasy frills, so to speak. I very much look forward to reading the other three books for the first time, now that I’ve jogged my memory of the world and characters LeGuin created. If you’ve read the series, let me know what you think!

9 thoughts on “Series Review: The Earthsea Trilogy”

  1. Like you, I first read this trilogy some time ago and have forgotten many of the details — these (or at least some of them!) came tumbling back as I read your review. I really love the trilogy which I’ve re-read a few times over many years. As you point out, it’s a quick read that focuses on the “internal journey” of the characters more on than external action; although there are quests and things, the real action is seeing how Ged matures, or how Arha/Tenar reconnects with humanity despite her brutal training. LeGuin has a wonderful imagination and a poetic way of looking at the world, which I really enjoy. For example, though she doesn’t spend a lot of time on dragons, she creates an unforgettable one (to me, at least) in Yevaud, who has to yield because Ged has spoken his true name. As much as I love these books, however, I have to agree with you about The Furthest Shore: Prince Arren didn’t do it for me and I thought this part of the story just a weeny bit dull. BTW I did try Tehanu when it was published some time after the original trilogy but it didn’t make much of an impression on me; I’ve always meant to give it another try (I’ll be interested to see what you think of it).

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    1. Yes Yevaud was great! You’re right, she created a strong character there with very little page time. I forgot already if that’s the same dragon in Farthest Shore, but I liked that one too. I’m curious to see what I think of the latter stories too. I have no idea what they’re about. It’ll determine if I get a matching set haha. Right now I have 3 different cover styles/book sizes. If I don’t like the latter 3 I’ll get rid of those. If I do, I’ll rebuy the others. Terrible, I know.

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  2. I read this a while ago too and have since forgotten some details. (Actually that “while ago” was a reread because I’d read the first book as a kid and had forgotten much.)
    I enjoyed the first book, but didn’t care much for the second. Like you, I wanted to get back to Get. And I didn’t like the third much because it seemed too heavy-handed with it’s message.

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  3. I also read this earlier in life and then bought it again for my shelf as part of a “buy and keep the books you read when you were a teen/child.” I’d forgotten it, too. But when I started it again recently, I just kept falling asleep. Reading your review made me realize it isn’t gonna work out with me and these books. Break-up time. I’ll put them in the Little Library for someone else to enjoy! Thanks for sticking with the series and reviewing!

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    1. Glad this was helpful! It definitely wasn’t as engaging for me as I’d hoped. I remember loving it in high school, or earlier, whenever I first read it. But maybe I didn’t have as much exposure to fantasy then. A solid series, but one that’s very, very slow. Now that I’ve read all 6, I don’t think I’ll ever read them again.

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