Book Lovers! Here is a book I recommend without a doubt. The Earthsea Quartet, by Ursula Le Guin, is a collection of four epic, beautifully-written tales in the archipelago isles of Earthsea. Set in a world of wise wizards, mile-wide fire-breathing dragons, and the ever-shifting balance of light and dark, the focus of this quartet is not the epic setting, nor the magic, but the brilliant development of people emerging into adulthood.
A Wizard of Earthsea, the first novella, follows Ged as he discovers his innate magical powers and becomes a wizard, rumoured by many to be the greatest of all time. When training, dared to show his power and summon someone from the land of the dead, he is left running for his life from a shadow seeking to overcome him.
The Tombs of Atuan, the second, follows Tenar, a young girl destined to be lead the cult of a long-forgotten religion. Born into a world she does not understand, when the wisened wizard Ged infiltrates her domain in search of a forgotten relic, her perspective of her world and the world outside are forever changed.
In The Farthest Shore, rumours spread across Earthsea of magic losing its power. Songs no longer have meaning, crops no longer grow, and the dragons forget themselves. Ged and Arren, a Prince, journey across Earthsea to discover the root of the evil.
The first three are written in a very condensed, fable-like structure, and waste no words in painting a clear picture of Le Guin’s world. A fantastically confusing feeling is left at the end of each story, thanks to their suitably abrupt, and brain-twistingly bitter-sweet endings. At the end of the third, I just wanted to go back to the beginning again and relive it again. I didn’t want to believe how it had finished.
And Tehanu, the fourth and final of the quartet, is a slower-paced story that deals with the shattering aftermath of the third, and Ged’s story as he must learn to live with himself, when his magic, his crutch, is taken from him. Tenar, now all grown up, is a foreign woman in a foreign land, alienated because of her accent and skin-colour.
The final book takes a strikingly different style to the others, in that it sheds its archaic fable tone, and adopts a more modern, personal approach. The dragons and magic are still there, but are stripped back under a magnifying lens, and conversations over dinner take precedence over journeys over land and sea. The underlying issues of inequality between men and women are addressed forthright, and it deals with the day-to-day struggles of normal people getting by.
Perhaps the greatest attraction of this series is the lack of a main antagonist. Yes, there’s a bad guy or two, but the focus is not good guy defeats bad guy, more-so child becomes adult. No villain can be so one-dimensional. It is the journey Ursula Le Guin focuses on, the issues of her world that reflect our own.
This is an example of fantasy in its highest form, and I would recommend anyone reading this, turn over the first page: It’s a book impossible to put down. Please, give it a read.
My rating: 5/5