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

A Wizard of Earthsea

Source: Purchased
Publisher: Recorded Books
Series: The Earthsea Cycle #1
Narrator: Rob Ingles 
Edition: Audiobook, 7 Hours 17 Minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Purchase: Amazon / Audible / Barnes & Noble
Rating: 3/5 Stars

“The shapeless mass of darkness split apart. It sundered, and a pale spindle of light gleamed between his open arms. In the oval of light there moved a human shape: a tall woman…beautiful, and sorrowful, and full of fear.” – from A Wizard of Earthsea, first in a tetralogy that includes The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore, introduces the listener to Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, known also as Sparrowhawk. When Sparrowhawk casts a spell that saves his village from destruction at the hands of the invading Kargs, Ogion, the Mage of Re Albi, encourages the boy to apprentice himself in the art of wizardry. So, at the age of 13, the boy receives his true name – Ged – and gives himself over to the gentle tutelage of the Master Ogion. But impatient with the slowness of his studies and infatuated with glory, Ged embarks for the Island of Roke, where the highest arts of wizardry are taught. There, Ged’s natural talents enable him to surpass his classmates in little time. But when his vanity prompts him to summon Elfarran, the fair lady of the Deed of Enlad, he unleashes a shapeless mass of darkness – the shadow.

I’ve been meaning to read a book by Ursula K. Le Guin since I first discovered her when I was about 12. I checked out a book of hers but never got around to reading it, now here I am 15 years later finally getting around to it. Better late than never!

A Wizard of Earthsea follows Ged, a young wizard who is learning the art of magic as well as the limits of the power within himself. In some ways, it’s a very typical coming of age story as Ged learns to balance his usage of magic and overcome his own arrogance. The ways in which it is not typical lies in the world itself. Earthsea is a world that is set up as a series of archipelagos. There are no large land masses where many cultures live, but instead a lot of smaller islands that can be incredibly isolated from one another. I personally enjoyed the world building, of what there is, more than the story itself. That’s not to say the story wasn’t good but it did seem to be lacking something magnetic. I formed very little personal connection with the story itself or it’s characters and felt more like a distant observer who is only getting the basic overview of events. Ursula’s writing is simple yet somewhat elegant, and I am curious to see how her writing develops over the course of the series.

Ged is a strong-willed and often times brash individual towards the beginning of the book, and I liked seeing his growth overall as he wrestles with the problems he has created. His journey to freedom from his self-imposed problem is the heart of the story and I realized that it’s actually fairly rare to have a book focus solely on the consequences of one small decision made by the main character in adolescence. However, I don’t really feel like I know Ged. The book is fairly short, but the depth of character development just isn’t there. For the first half of the book, I was severely annoyed with him as he fed into his own ego and didn’t truly care about his journey, and it wasn’t until midway through the second half that I really started to like him. The only character I really liked from the first moment was Vetch, who doesn’t get nearly enough page time. I was also thrown off by the lack of strong female characters, given that Ursula is often recommended for that exact thing. In fact, nearly all of the women in this book are either kind of ignorant or conniving. I’ve heard that she makes up for this glaring issue in other books, so there is still hope.

I rather enjoyed the audiobook of this one. I’ve listened to Rob Ingles narrate the Lord of the Rings trilogy and loved his treatment of that work, and I’m happy to say he really breathes life into this one as well. His voice work is fantastic and I love his pacing, and honestly, he made the whole thing a little more interesting.

I’m really glad that I’m reading this series with a group because while the book isn’t terrible, it doesn’t really have much that makes me want to move forward. I am curious about where the second book will go now that his major character growth is out of the way, but I’m somewhat disappointed in the rather unforgettable nature of this one.

3 star

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5 Responses to Audiobook Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

  1. Greg says:

    I remember this series vaguely, although this one the most. TBH the second and third books were not memorable for me, I hardly remember anything. But I’d probably get more out of them now that I’m older, I ws in like junior high probably when I read ’em. I did like the archipelago setting…

  2. Too bad you found it rather disappointing. I loved this book when I was a teenager. Have you decided not to continue, in the end?

  3. As I commented before, I was horrified that I didn’t care all that much for this book when I re-read it in my forties after loving the trilogy in my early 20s. Weird, huh? Maybe it was because I hadn’t had much to compare it to? I was pretty much a SciFi reader up until that point. Thanks for sharing your review. ☺

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