Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Earthsea Cycle
Author info: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/

This is one of the classics of fantasy. It was written in 1967 when the only example of fantasy literature out there was LOTR. It has wizards and dragons, but it’s nothing remotely like a typical fantasy book. It’s more literary fiction than genre fiction, despite the fantasy elements in it, and also it’s quite original and nothing like any fantasy book I’ve read.

If you read this book with the typical expectations you’d have for genre fiction, you might be disappointed. Quite a few friends who read it found it boring, but I beg to differ. I have read plenty of literary fiction in my younger days and A Wizard of Earthsea has reminded me of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach -which were written years later- even though it’s quite different. I have read a review in Goodreads saying Ursula K. Le Guin has studied Taoist philosophy and A Wizard of Earthsea has heavy Taoist themes, even though I am not much familiar with Taoism, I can say I noticed the underlying East Asian philosophy in the story.

The prose is beautiful, there are no plot holes at all, and none of the typical tropes and cliches. The twists are masterful and a delight to read. Where everyone copied from Tolkien, even decades after LOTR, Le Guin wrote a completely original story when there was no example of fantasy fiction other than LOTR. That alone makes it worth a read. It’s not even 200 pages anyway, for those of us who are used to 600-700 page fantasy books, it should take a day or two day to read this book.

I didn’t find it boring at all and loved the philosophy in it. If you read it like literary fiction with fantasy themes, you will most probably love it.

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9 thoughts on “Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

  1. I read this book and the entire Earthsea trilogy plus one years ago and loved them. Fantasy is not really a favorite genre of mine and I read fantasy seldom. But I did love those books, and have loved LeGuin’s work for years.

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  2. I haven’t read much of it, but there were definitely examples of fantasy fiction other than Lord of the Rings, both at the time Tolkien was writing and at the time Le Guin was writing. Not just the sword and sorcery stories from the pulps, but works by authors that directly influenced Tolkien like Lord Dunsany and George MacDonald.

    I didn’t care for the only Le Guin story I’ve read–from the Women of Futures Past collection–but I do want to read at least the initial Earthsea books.

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  3. Glad to hear you enjoyed Wizard of Earthsea, Leona. UKLG is my all-time favorite author, and I agree that her Earthsea books are very different (in a good way) from Tolkien and other influential fantasy works. Are you planning to read the rest of the Earthsea cycle now?

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    • Reading Tombs of Atuan now, I’ll read all of them before the end of the year if I can manage. I love the female lead and the tension, it’s quite different from all other fantasy works as well.

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  4. I’m crazy about Le Guin. I’ve re-read this series about three or four times now. The beauty of her prose always takes my breath away, especially because it’s also fairly simple–a very big influence when I was young and still trying to figure out my own voice in the craft.

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    • Just finished reading Tombs of Atuan and now reading The Farthest Shore. It’s great to hear you love those books, unfortunately everyone around me found them boring :/ They are amazing gems in the SFF genre and her prose is so poetic and beautiful.

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