By: Ursula K. Le Guin
Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth. Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the 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.
Completion: I had to read this for class (which is the only reason I finished it). It wasn’t hard to read per se, but there wasn’t really anything to keep me going either. Such as a shame, since I’ve only heard great things about Ursula K. Le Guin and her writing.
Writing/Style: The story is written in a very legend or fairytale-esque style. Because of this, there is such a distance between the reader and the characters that it makes it hard to know them and become invested in them. The writing itself feels like a background chapter you might get on an already established character that we care about. Imagine if Dumbledore (minus the humor, cleverness, etc.) had a rushed book about his childhood without us knowing Dumbledore as this amazing wizardly father figure for Harry. Knowing J.K. Rowling, she would still probably manage to turn that into a good story, but I digress. This book just seems a little backward, giving us the background chapter/story without purpose or interest.
Characters: The characters felt like cardboard cutouts. I could never relate/sympathize/invest in Ged, the main character. We seem to do get all the negative qualities about him (anger, pride, etc.) without any of the positive qualities, quirks, interests, and so on that would make us care or root for him. As well, we were often told things about characters and their relationships rather than following those story threads along. We get only a line or two before a character is announced to be the antagonist, and we are told that Ged and Vetch become great friends but I never see that or believe it.
Plot/Pacing: This book felt like it was on fast-forward. As well, while I understand that Le Guin was attempting to write something new and avoid certain cliches of fantasy, in the end this book felt like the pinnacle of high fantasy stereotypes.
World-building/Atmosphere: It is clear that Ursula knows a lot about this world from the geography to the different cultures; however, I the reader didn’t. Places and cultures fly by so quickly and are so many that none had a lasting impression on me. I never had time to really sink in and discover these interesting tidbits because the pacing kept rushing the characters on and on like pieces on a chessboard. This is a shame because I feel that if it had slowed down this world could have been as interesting and thorough as Westoros from Game of Thrones (well, maybe not that as good as Westoros, but just giving an example of another book that has a TON of information about places, cultures, lore, etc.).
Sub-genres (Romance, Humor, Mystery, etc.): Due to the style, we did not get much in the way of romance, humor, and mystery. All of those things can only be done well if we know and care about the characters, but these elements seemed to have been sacrificed in the name of style. However, if one would argue that there is a mystery, then it was not well done because I saw the ending and message coming from a mile away.
FINAL VERDICT: The style keeps the reader at a distance, and the pace pushes the characters from one scene to the next without much in the way of character development, humor, romance, mystery, and so on. While there are some interesting aspects to this novel, unless you particularly like a legend or fairytale-esque style of story, I would give it a pass. Simply put, most modern readers expect more in the way of character and plot development than what this book gives.