- Jan 16, 2010
I've heard Earthsea mentioned from time to time, and have been gradually getting more interested in it. Sorry to hear it's not really all that good.A Wizard of Earthsea (3/5)
I really didn't like this book. If you'd asked me to rate it by the halfway mark, I'd have given it a 2/5, and asked Little Jimmy if I could just quit it. Since Little Jimmy won't leave my head, lest I turn into a donkey, I ploughed on and I've reached the conclusion that while I don't like this novel much, it's by no means a bad one, and indeed, probably one of the most unique fantasy novels I've read.
I'm going to start with the novel's main selling points, and they can basically be boiled down to worldbuilding (sort of) and tone. Earthsea is a world of almost endless ocean, where there's plenty of islands everywhere, but no real major landmasses - nothing you'd call a continent for example. The seas are further divided into reaches, and various peoples of various cultures/ethnicities populate said islands. While the worldbuilding has an Achilles heel I'll get to later, conceptually, at least, Earthsea is pretty unique, even if water worlds aren't that unique in of themselves. Secondly, there's tone. Earthsea follows Ged, the titular wizard, as he goes through life from childhood, to becoming a wizard, to facing his inner demons (literally, in this case). That said, the novel's plot and stakes are very sedate. You could remove Ged from the world of Earthsea, and nothing would change. Not significantly at least (at least within this novel, I can't comment on the sequels). This isn't a criticism mind you, but it's an example of the low stakes, more introspective writing going on. Earthsea is just a setting that Ged explores, as he moves through life and develops as a person. Contrast that to something like Lord of the Rings for instance, where even in The Hobbit, the fate of an entire part of Middle-earth is decided by the actions of the protagonists.
So, yeah. Earthsea's unique, I'll give it that. However, I'm still not that fond of the book. First, the worldbuilding. While it's a strength, it's also a weakness here, in that the worldbuilding never really goes into much depth. Le Guin's approach to worldbuilding is "move through, name a lot of islands, keep moving," and while some islands get more fleshing out than others, it's a...well, ironically for the setting, the phrase "wide as an ocean, deep as a puddle" comes to mind. Second, while the writing is fairly unique, Ged is...look, I'm sorry, Ged is just boring. He's not as obnoxious as, say, Kvothe, despite both being wizards and having red hair, but he just isn't interesting enough to carry a novel by himself. A lot of the time, it's just Ged meandering through life, and consequently, La Guin's writing style does a lot (and I mean, A LOT) of summarizing, where whole years can be covered in just a few paragraphs. I get that the novel going into detail for Ged's entire life would make it unwieldy and/or insanely long, but I'm really not fond of this writing style. I think part of why I like the second half more is that there's less summary, more in-the-moment writing.
I'm going to briefly touch on the question of Earthsea influencing other works, because reading this, I could see a lot of similarities with other IPs I was familiar with. True names holding power? Inheritence and Warhammer. Cosmic balance that affects the world? Wheel of Time and Diablo. Wizard school? Christ, too many to count, and yes, I'm aware of the irony that after trashing Magisterium and Keeper, I still can't escape the wizard school trope. However, while it's fair to say Earthsea did it first, a lot of the afforementioned medias did it better. So as I researched what I could on Earthsea, with people claiming it should be put on the same pedestal as Lord of the Rings or Narnia for instance...yeah, no. Not going to tell you what to like, and how to rate it, but for me, while Earthsea is a very unique work, that uniqueness doesn't inherently make it a good one, nor make up for its flaws.
In a way, I'd kind of recommend it, given that it's fairly unique in the fantasy genre, but that doesn't mean it's "good."I've heard Earthsea mentioned from time to time, and have been gradually getting more interested in it. Sorry to hear it's not really all that good.