Reviewed: A Wizard of Earthsea (Book 1)

Ged & the Shadow illustrated by Mark (me)

Title: A Wizard of Earthsea
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Publisher: Parnassus Press
Rating: 4/5
Buy: Amazon | Bookshop


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.


‘Jasper,’ said Ged, ‘what do you know of what I know?’

This book was refreshing.

I have not been on a reading tear as I have in the recent past. There is something to say about having external deadlines to finish books. Although, these were nonfiction books, and Earthsea was anything but.

Le Guin has always been of interest to me, and the Earthsea Cycle has been a series that’s been continuously recommended to me. For whatever insane reason, I never read it. I never read her. Yet, a few years ago, I had purchased a few of her books. Not just any kind of book, like a mass market paperback at a used bookstore. No. I purchased a hard copy collector’s edition from Folio Society. These are much pricier than your average book copy. And I would argue, prettier.

It was a risky investment. One that I was convinced would have a good payoff. But did it?

A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea follows Ged and his journey to becoming the greatest sorcerer of his time. When people would ask me what I was reading, I would playfully say, “A story about a boy wizard with a scar on his face that fights the evil, dark shadow!”

Everyone’s first thoughts go to Harry Potter. Except, Earthsea was published nearly 30 years before the first Harry Potter book was published. And as much as I would love to take more digs at the author of that book series—I’ve only read the first book—I must admit that the similarities somewhat end there. Arguably, A Wizard of Earthsea is the first book to usher in the idea of a school for wizards. However, we don’t spend much time there, we instead focus on Ged’s journey.

They talked together late that night, and though always they came back to the bitter matter of what lay before Ged, yet their pleasure in being together overrode all; for the love between them was strong and steadfast, unshaken by time or chance.

Earthsea is that high fantasy journey that one thinks about in this genre. The characters traveling to far-off lands, giving you beautiful scenery to enjoy and characters to interact with. And it is this journey that we are told to focus on, and that is what I love about the story.

Ged is what you would typically expect of a boy with magic power. He is arrogant, full of himself, and completely humbled when he takes on more than he can chew and releases a horror upon the world. All because he wanted to show off his power and prove how superior he was to his nemesis. This wasn’t the first time he’s done this, but it was his most profound.

And this is where the journey begins.

A Wizard of Earthsea

Le Guin deals with several themes throughout the book. It’s a coming of age story for Ged. We start with him as a boy and we watch his journey as he grows into a man. We sit with his mistakes and his fears. We watch his joys and his struggles. It is these particular type of stories that I enjoy. You understand where the character has come from and where they are now and how this is changed through experience. You may get a character that is impulsive and brash in youth, radical and contrarian in their teenage years, to temper and mild in their mid years. Each with their own perspectives. And as the reader, you can compare and contrast their situations, how they processed and reasoned them, and how they acted. It’s multiple characters in one, from my perspective, and I love it.

A Wizard of Earthsea (interior)

What’s also front and center regarding themes is how you handle power and responsibility. Ged boasts of his power. Given how he grew up, it’s an obvious call for attention. He gains a mentor, but his thirst for power and the spectacle remains. As with many in youth, we don’t understand the lessons being taught to us until we make a fatal mistake. Sometimes you have to live life making many mistakes before you return to the one that mentored you and acknowledges their lessons.

The last and most powerful theme that I’ve gleaned is identity. Magic in this world is done, partly, with names. When you know the name of the thing, you can control it. All things in the world has a name. Some are known, others are not. Many a mage of great power has spent their whole life to find out the name of a single thing—a lost or hidden name. The lists of names run long, but many are lost as their true names exist in other languages or tongues not known to man. To think you know of a thing doesn’t mean you know it. A name for one may not be its true name. However, this applies to Ged. The name the world knows him as is Sparrowhawk. The name that is closely guarded and only shared and spoke amongst the most trusted is Ged. What does it mean to know your name? Does that mean you know yourself?

It is very hard for evil to take hold of the unconsenting soul.

Le Guin gives us much to ponder as we travel with Ged. None of the questions she raises have simple answers, and it is with such joy that I don’t find a Dark Lord for Ged to battle. There is no massive war and battles at the end of her novel. That is not to say there aren’t battles or fights, but it dispenses with the trope that what you battle is attributed to a single individual. Everything will be perfect once they are defeated.

It is a grand tale. And it really took me back to my younger days, when I would spend hours browsing the library shelves and reading whatever books I could. Still, I want more. I am eager to know more about the world. I would like to explore Ged’s growth after he confronts his mistakes. I want to explore the discrimination of women and their magic, given the wonderful quote “weak as a woman’s magic,” and “wicked as a woman’s magic.” I want more.


If you are looking for a story about a boy wizard with a more seasoned approach to varying themes, an exploration of character, and nuance within the world, I will recommend this book. And I can only hope that the remaining books in the series continue me on that journey.

I regret that I have not read this book much earlier.


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