Title: A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea #1)
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Review: Unlike many people I didn’t read the Earthsea series as a child so I am excited to see what I think of it as an adult, considering fantasy is one of my favourite genres to read. I didn’t know anything about Earthsea going into it but the book are fairly short which was an added bonus since I am trying to read the whole series while we are in lockdown. In the opening chapter we are introduced to Duny who lives in a rural community, his mother died when he was just one and grew up quite rogue but after overhearing his aunt one day he accidently performs quite a strong spell. His aunt begins to teach him all that she knows although she keeps to pure magic as she herself dabbles in darker things and she realises her nephew is quite powerful and can be great. His rural village is invaded just before he turns 13 and he uses his magic to drive them off which draws the attention of the Mage of Re Albi, Ogion the Silent who tells Duny’s father as his naming ceremony on his 13th birthday when he will be considered a man, he will return and take Duny as his apprentice, which he does and he gives Duny the name Ged.
As we approach the ¼ mark in the novel, Ogion takes Ged to him home and begins to teach him the lore he will need to advance as a mage but Ged is impatience and has a hunger for knowledge and he offer complains he isn’t learning anything but he is enjoying himself. He ends up meeting a girl in Re Albi who asks him many questions about magic and he often boasts and when she asks him to change his shape he seeks to learn the spell he needs but ends up coming across a spell to raise the dead. His master steps in and tells him that the girl’s mother is an enchantress and she might have been working through him in order to get that spell and once again Ged points out he hasn’t learnt anything under him since arriving. His master explains that Ged isn’t bound to him and if he so chooses he can go to Roke and learn there any craft he chooses and acquire the power he seeks but warns him not to let his pride get in the way. Ged realises for the first time in his life he has someone that genuinely cares about his wellbeing and not what he can provide but he still chooses to go to Roke. The journey to Roke is long and as they are travelling by boat they are bound by the weather, when bad weather moves in it seems like they have going to have to change course but instinctively Ged knows the Roke is close and they are almost out of the storm which turns out to be completely true and he has finally arrived at his destination.
As we cross the ¼ mark in the novel, Ged begins learning at the School of Roke and begins learning all the magic he wants. He even manages to make a good friend in Vetch, who is well on his way to becoming a Sorcerer but he is kind to Ged and they fall easily into conversation making Ged feel less of a fool for leaving Ogion. He also makes a rival in Jesper who is wizard born and seems to have a natural advantage on the other students so Ged makes it his mission to be better than Jesper in everything they do. However, Ged quickly becomes unsatisfied at the school as all he seems to be learning is illusion and in his opinion, foolery. He is surprised when he is one of the eight student chosen to study under the Master Namer in the Isolate Tower and he begins to understand the Balance that all wizards talk about and how they shouldn’t disturb it and we see Ged begin to grow. When he returns to the school he is disheartened to learn that in his absence both Vetch and Jesper have been made Sorcerers while he is still an apprentice. Ged is a strange character for me sometimes I really like him, other times I think he is incredibly childish and then I remember he can only be about 15 at most so it is expected. The passage of time is really strange too, in one chapter only a couple of days have passed and then suddenly in the next a year has gone by but I am enjoying A Wizard of Earthsea and it is flying by.
As we approach the halfway mark in the novel, a festival is held at the School seeing the return of Vetch and Jesper. Jesper makes it his mission to antagonise Ged all night leading to a challenge between the two, which is illegal but they do it anyway fuelled by their hate. In order to prove he is better than Jesper, Ged is asked to summon a spirit of the dead and he does choosing one from a legend but something goes wrong and Ged summons a shadow that attacks him leaving him scarred and burning with a fever. One of the Masters drives it off at the cost of his own life and for months Ged is in the hospital as the wounds initially won’t heal. Once he has healed, Vetch returns his familiar, Hoeg the otek and he is told that he know bound to the School until he has enough power and knowledge to defend himself against the thing he summoned. For the next three years, Ged trains, learns and tries to find some reference to what he summoned but doesn’t really get anywhere except learning that it comes from the Old Powers. After turning 18, Ged is released from the school into the world as a Sorcerer at last but even Vetch can’t dispel the notion Ged has that he should hide away from the world so he can’t hurt anyone. Vetch tells him he sees Ged travelling the world, fierce and brave but doesn’t answer when Ged asks what Vetch sees behind him. It seems in the 5 years that have passed since Ged became Ogion’s apprentice, he has grown up a lot and manage to dispel most of his arrogance, pride, and ignorance but I’m not sure what is going to happen now.
As we cross the halfway mark in the novel, Ged is sent to the Isle-men of Low Torning to protect them from the Dragons of Pendor. There are nine dragons in total that threaten the island of Low Torning although eight of them are very young. Ged works there for a while as a simple weather worker or healer whichever is required of him and he seems to enjoy his time there, he even makes a few friends. This all changes one night when his friend’s son falls ill with fever and Ged is asked to heal him and despite knowing there is now way to save the child he tries anyway but uses up too much of his magic. In the strange place Ged finds himself, he sees the child running into the city of the dead and he knows he can’t follow but the shadow creature he summoned is waiting for him there and he knows it won’t be long until it finds him again and that he has to leave Low Torning as soon as he can. However, before he can leave he knows he has to deal with the dragons and heads to Pendor, there he kills five of the young dragons and mortally wounds the sixth before the older dragon makes an appearance. The dragon appeals to Ged’s greed and finds he has none and then he tries to appeal to his fear of the creatures that’s following him and even offers Ged it’s name but Ged refuses knowing he has to put the safety of the people above his own. Ged knows the dragon’s name is Yevaud and uses this to bind him to an oath that he can never fly or hunt in their lands ever again, which angers the dragon but Ged doesn’t even try to get the name of the creature he summoned before leaving.
As we approach the ¾ mark in the novel, Ged seems to be shaping up to be a capable wizard and he is an interesting character to follow despite the pacing issues this novel has. After dealing with the dragons, Ged returns to Low Torning to relay the news of his victory over the dragons but he can feel the shadow is close and is eager to return to Roke. However, the journey there is hard and the Roke-wind rises against meaning the evil is very close. In a port town he meets a mysterious man that tells him to go to the Court of Terrenon in Osskil and there he might find a weapon that can deal with the shadow once and for all. He boards a ship passing through the Enlades to Osskil and finds someone who is heading in the direction of the Court to guide him. It isn’t that simple as the shadow has possessed the man and it knows Ged’s true name, not his chosen named of Sparrowhawk meaning his magic is useless again this creature so he runs, only to find a brief sanctuary from the creature chasing him down. The sanctuary he stumbles into happens to be the Court of Terrenon and Terrenon isn’t a place as I first thought but a stone that gives its master power and knowledge. In the Court Ged meets Serret, the wife of the Lord of Terrenon and they become friends, she tells him about the stone and its powers and ultimately that it told her that Ged is its master and it has been waiting for him for a long time. Serret turns out to be the witch child Ogion warned him about when he first lived with him and she wants him to take control of the Terrenon and free her from the prison she is in but he doesn’t get the chance when the Lord has uncovered what she is planning and attacks them. Serret flees in her gull form but the servants of the stone are on the trial. Ged is stopped when he finds the body of Hoeg, his companion dead in the snow sparking a rage in him which only intensifies when he realises that Serret has been killed too. Rather than fighting he flees to the only place he felt safe, Re Abli specifically Ogion’s home. His master explains to him that he needs to stop running and face what follows him or it will win, hearing these words from the man who considers Ged his son gives him the courage he needs to face the darkness pursuing him.
As we cross into the final section of the novel, Ged faces the creature once more but this time it flees from him as he is now the hunter. He relentlessly follows it for weeks on end and along the way he meets some interesting people including a displaced Prince and Princess abandoned on a time strip of land now elderly but managed to survive. Finally, he comes to rest in Iffish where he meets his old friend Vetch again fulfilling his promise to meet his family including his younger sister Yarrow, whose true name is Kesh, which Vetch entrusts to Ged. Vetch upon learning what Ged has been through decides to follow his friend to the very end, literally in this case as their journey leads them to the edge of the world where Ged faces the shadow once more and names it with his own name. This as far as I understand forces them to merge into one being but Ged, not the shadow, is the ultimate winner as this is shown when the scars the creature gave him disappear. They manage to return to Iffish where Yarrow waits for them to return. This book is being told long after the events have passed as the narrator mentions that there is no other record of Ged’s journey with Vetch into the Open Sea but they also make reference to the events of the next book, The Tombs of Atuan. Overall, the writing style took a little while to get used to but I really enjoyed A Wizard of Earthsea and can’t wait to continue the series.
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