I know that Ursula K. Le Guin is a big name in influential fantasy authors, especially for children’s and YA. And I’d never read anything by her, so I figured that I should. A Wizard of Earthsea is the classic hero’s journey with wizards and magic and dragons and all sorts of other stuff. What more could you ask for?
Apparently a lot. I was bored! Partly due to the story, and partly because of the language. It felt stuffy. I think she was going for an epic tale sort of thing, but it just didn’t do it for me. Maybe that was just her writing style. I think the problem is that there isn’t enough dialogue. There’s a lot of description, and the sentences are long and winding with multiple commas in them.
We start off knowing that this is the tale of Sparrowhawk, one of the greatest wizards there ever was in this fantasy universe. (Alright, so at least we know he’s going to survive to become great.) He grows up in a small village and learns some magic from his maternal aunt, who is a witch, and manages to save his village from invaders using his magic. He is then apprenticed to a wizard when he turns thirteen. The boy is not as impressed with the wizard as he thought he would be, because the wizard does not teach him flashy spells, but instead patience and nature and language. He tries to impress a girl and does a bad oops, and then decides to go to wizard school (but not as fun as Hogwarts.)
He goes to school, makes a friend, has a rival, and learns a few lessons that are good for everyone to learn. It’s… not very exciting. Then he tries to impress his rival, and does another bad oops, which is the big bad oops for the rest of the book.
As far as the “stereotypical hero’s journey (now with magic!)” books go, I much prefer David Eddings’ The Belgariad. That has varied characters that I actually cared about and humor. Wait, that’s what was missing from this! It was all serious with no humor or lighter bits to break it up! And I didn’t really get invested in the characters.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some good aspects of the book. There are some good universal lessons and some scenes that are almost entertaining. But Sparrowhawk is not infallible. He makes mistakes and he pays for them. And he doesn’t succeed at everything he does. That’s right, he fails! He takes a big risk and it doesn’t pay off. I feel like that is something authors tend to shy away from nowadays. Maybe we should bring it back…
This fulfills the CBR12 Bingo square of “White Whale” because at least now I can say I’ve read it.