Book review

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin (1968)

This is a compelling story about a powerful and gifted young wizard who is tempted by vanity to try a Spell of Summoning which brings into the world a black shadow-beast. Barely escaping with his life the wizard Sparrowhawk at first tries to hide from the evil which he released into the world, before confronting the flaws in his own character which were responsible for the disastrous Spell of Summoning.

You won't warm to Sparrowhawk when you first meet him. He is indeed gifted and powerful beyond measure but he is also proud and conceited, self-willed and argumentative and perhaps above all ashamed of his lowly upbringing as a goatherd on the outlying island of Gont. But Ursula Le Guin moulds this character beautifully, dragging him inch by inch through devastating remorse and critical self-examination until he emerges, physically and mentally scarred, but now strong enough to turn and hunt the shadow beast in a final showdown.

And not only is this a scouring account of the battle between good and evil, but it is also set in a thoroughly constructed world where the rules of geography apply equally with the rules of magery. Ursula Le Guin will introduce you to the power of naming, and show you a school for wizards on the island of Roke where the arts of Changing and Summoning are taught. If you are interested, you might like to compare this school with Harry Potter's school of witchcraft and wizardry, Hogwarts. Although they are obviously treated very differently, these two schools have remarkable timetabling similarities. After I had read this book I really felt I understood the basics of witchcraft myself.

What can I read next?

A Wizard of Earthsea is a definitive work, in many ways as effective as The Lord of the Rings. If this book captures your imagination, you will be pleased to know it is just the first of a five-part series:

If you enjoy great fantasy epics you might like to look at the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman:

If you haven't got round to reading J R R Tolkien yet, this may be the moment. Have a look at:

Also, in a lighter vein, by J.K. Rowling:

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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