Earlier this year, I told myself that I would make an effort to read more books. (I even went as far as committing to the 12 books in a year challenge on my Instagram). And while I will admit that I’m a bit behind when it comes to my reading goals, the quality of novels I’ve read in the past few months does make up for the lack of quantity.
In January, I got the chance to delve into the magical (and award-winning) world of Earthsea via book one of Usula K. Le Guin’s six-novel high fantasy series. The Earthsea Cycle has been beloved by fantasy readers for decades, having even inspired a not-so-faithful Studio Ghibli adaptation, and while some may find Le Guin’s writing style to be “plain” I honestly found A Wizard of Earthsea to be a fully immersive and not to mention cozy fantasy read.
As someone who sometimes struggles to finish books, Le Guin’s work was refreshingly easy to read and just as rewarding.
“The magic of Earthsea is primal; the lessons of Earthsea remain as potent, as wise, and as necessary as anyone could dream.”Neil Gaiman
More than that, though, Book One of the Earthsea Cycle (and Le Guin herself) surprised me when I eventually came to realize just how ahead of it’s time the novel was. Complete with wizards, dragons, and an epic journey, this book is as quintessentially fantastical as it gets. And at the same time, it isn’t. In fact, A Wizard of Earthsea subverts quite a few fantasy tropes that were popular at the time of its publication (1968) – the main one being that its main characters are not the typical white male heroes of that era.
A Wizard of Earthsea follows Ged, who we know from the very beginning (it’s literally in the blurb) will go on to be one of Earthsea’s greatest wizards. When we encounter him, though, he is just a young man forced confront a darkness that he himself unleashed upon the world. He is accompanied by Vetch, a dark-skinned apprentice wizard and Ged’s closest friend
Le Guin definitely impresses with her very subtle subversion of typical fantasy tropes (themes of war, the white male hero, etc). This, along with her writing style, which makes what would be complex themes easily understood by audiences of all ages, has solidified A Wizard of Earthsea (and hopefully the rest of the series) as one of my newest favorites.
A Wizard of Earthsea was riveting, yet conventional—except in the important way that its main characters quietly subverted one of British and American fantasy’s most notable tropes, in which white, often Europeanesque figures are the presumptive standard. Heroic characters in sci-fi or fantasy who looked like me—brown or black, hair tightly curled—seemed strange, impossible, like the dreams of a forgotten circus tent.Gabrielle Bellot (Tor.com)
A Wizard of Earthsea:
Ged was the greatest sorcerer in Earthsea, but in his youth, he was the reckless Sparrowhawk. In his hunger for power and knowledge, he tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tumultuous tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.
Get a copy here (Amazon) or here (Bookshop).