Well. Bit of pressure with this one, particular if one Ms. J. Ellis reads this.
This series (I am aware it is a quintet, but I only had the trilogy, I will get to the other two at some point.) was explained to me as the original Harry Potter, to which I could not disagree more. The first book, I will admit, has twinges of Potterness with the magic school element, but beyond that I think Harry is such a very different character to Ged/Sparrowhawk that the similarities end there.
From the first book, Ged is a young boy possessed of natural magical ability and an insatiable hunger for power and adventure. This leads him in to a bit of a fix when he accidentally conjures up some sort of evil spirit of the dead which for the rest of the first book, Wizard of Earthsea, pursues him through the lands of Earthsea and attempts to overpower his will. It’s pretty heavy stuff, and not at all what I expected from a young adult/children’s book series. Sometimes Ged really irritated me with his woe-is-me nature, but then again he was being relentlessly pursued by an amorphous evil intent on consuming him in order to take power over the world. Not sure what I would do in that situation.
I really enjoyed the nautical feel to these books, as Earthsea is made up of a large network of small islands, all with their different cultures and religions. One thing that was different from the majority of fantasy out there (although, not so surprising when we consider the author is Ursula Le Guin) is that Ged was described as a black man, as were most of the magicians. Indeed, the magicians are highly respected because of their power and the benevolence they show to the islanders. This is only really brought in to contrast in the second book, The Tombs of Atuan, where the priestess of Atuan is white, and the inhabitants of that island are highly superstitious of magicians and their power.
As I usually find with Le Guin, the books were all slow going to start with and difficult to get in to. I often find myself really frustrated reading her novels in that establishment period where we are orienting ourselves with a new world, I always feel as though I’m drifting aimlessly and it is not going anywhere. Of course it always does, but it is frustrating reading a good quarter of the book and feeling as though it is never going to have a point.
I think I enjoyed the last novel, The Farthest Shore, the most. By this time Ged is far more established, more mature and far less restless in his position as Archmage. Arren, the young prince sent to Roke, the isle of the wizards, to investigate the mysterious malaise of evil intent that descends on all of the lands, was one of my favourite characters. He is brave, bright and loyal, but also sparky enough to seriously question sometimes if he is not doing something insane in following this deranged silent wizard around on his magical boat. I found that a little bit endearing.
The last book had its share of twists, I think my attention must have lapsed at some point as I have no idea who the bad guy was originally and it was not at all who I was expecting. I very much enjoyed the dragons and Ged’s sympatico (as Howard Moon would say) with them as well as their ancient knowledge, an element these dragons share with the dragons of the Magician series by Raymond Feist. The part of the novel I most enjoyed was the time Ged and Arren spent with the raft people drifting on the sea. It was the most complete and desirable of all the cultures in Earthsea and I could very happily spend a summer with those people fishing and swimming in the warm ocean all day long.
Overall I enjoyed these books and I did want to keep reading them to find out what happened. Like all Le Guin novels I think it was a bit of a slowburner, but I find they are the ones that you carry around with you for a long time afterwards. Light on action but so deeply constructed as to feel as though it is a real world. I’ve probably given the books a harder review then they deserve because they are well worth reading.
I’m now on to the sequel, Vacant Possessions, of Hilary Mantel’s first novel, Every Day is Mothers day, which follows the exploits of Muriel Axon and Colin Sidney ten years after their dramatic downfall.