Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

Hi everyone! I’m back with another review. A Wizard for Earthsea is regarded as a classic in the YA fantasy genre, and while I don’t read a lot of fantasy anymore, it’s very close to my heart. Fantasy was the genre I read most as a kid, and it’s also the genre I first dipped into after college, when I started reading for pleasure again. Reading A Wizard of Earthsea definitely brought back that nostalgia in the best way.

A Wizard of Earthsea

Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children in 2012; first published 1968)

My Rating: ★★★★☆

This is my first by Le Guin, and I have to say, she does a pretty good job with a familiar but little-used fantasy trope. Here’s the long and short of it: a monstrously talented young wizard (think Chosen One levels) lets the talent gets to his head, tries to one-up his douchey rival at wizard school, backfires big time, and ends up doing damage control for the evil he unleashed.

I love it already. I love storylines where protagonists make a huge mess of things and have to clean up their messes afterwards. It just makes for a whole lot of character growth, and most of the bad decisions are over with quickly. Plus, even as they’re making bad decisions, they’re at least guaranteed to be aware that they’ve made bad decisions, so it saves readers a lot of frustration. (Unlike Harry Potter, who’s frustrating to read as an adult because he’s always charging into life-or-death situations with no plans whatsoever.)

The start was slow-going for me, though, and the characters were difficult to connect with. Le Guin uses a style of writing that’s reminiscent of a folk song or a ballad (minus the line breaks), so we have something that’s closer to Bible stories or The Iliad rather than Game of Thrones. But while I didn’t like it at first – or more accurately, I found it unfamiliar at first, and the unfamiliar always brings some discomfort with it – I found myself warming up to it by Chapter 3 or 4. I spent a few days just reading a paragraph or so at a time, but then suddenly, I found I couldn’t seem to stop reading and just sprinted towards the end in a few hours.

I also loved her world-building and the magic system. I’ve read a few YA/NA fantasy a year or so ago and I’ve gotten used to seeing the kind of magic where people can just suddenly do things out of thin air, with no consequences whatsoever. In Le Guin’s world, magic follows very logical rules, and there are always trade-offs to using – and overusing – magic. I appreciated this since it quickly raised the stakes for the characters and gave their magical decisions a lot more weight.

In conclusion, this was a great read for me, but something that I was slow to warm up to. It’s probably the kind of fantasy that’s best read when you have the time and patience for the world to unfold. I’ll definitely read more Le Guin, though – I have a physical copy of The Left Hand of Darkness, which hopefully I can pick up this year.

How about you? Have you read this book? What are your favorite YA fantasy/sci-fi books? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Find me on Goodreads | Read from January 3-8, 2020

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