Pros: excellent writing, interesting story
Cons: theme might seem too familiar to some
Recently, the SciFi Network aired the original miniseries Legend of Earthsea, which my husband was bent on watching, and therefore, forced me to watch as well. Sensing my disdain, he assured me that the books he remembered reading when he was younger were virtually nothing like the SciFi version. I think my nodding may have looked a bit skeptical, because the next thing I knew, he was ordering the first three books of the Earthsea Cycle, and accordingly with his nefarious plot, I immediately devoured all three books in quick succession.
::: The Wizard :::
In A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula LeGuin introduces us to the world of Earthsea, made up entirely of islands. There is no mainland, just countless islands - some large, some small - and magic is as commonplace as air. On one of the more rural-type islands, a boy is growing up with an inherent skill for magic. He begins studying with a lower-level village spellmaker, until the day he saves his village from intruders by using fog. He is then brought to study with a mage (a full wizard), but he is impatient, and in the course of trying to learn more than he should, learns about the dark side of magic. His teacher offers him the choice to study at the wizard school on the Isle of Roke instead, and he jumps at the chance.
The boy, like all characters, has more than one name. His use-name, or common name, is Sparrowhawk, but his true name, given to him at about the age of 13 (similar to most ceremonies transitioning to adulthood) is Ged. He learns a great deal at the school, but at the same time, is scorned by some students who are jealous of his obvious innate powers. In a challenge made by another student, he attempts to conjure the dead, and instead, calls one of The Nameless Ones, also known as a gebbeth, a powerful force of evil. The Archmage (head of the school) dies to save Ged, and Ged finishes his years at Roke with a heavy heart for what he has done.
Once Ged has completed his schooling, he must face a choice: remain on Roke and remain safe from the evil he has loosed, or make his way in the world. He begins by fleeing the evil before ultimately deciding to pursue it to a conclusion: either his own death or the defeat of evil. He encounters all manner of people on other islands in his journeys, meeting up with both his first teacher from his homeland of Gont, as well as his friend Vetch from his studies at Roke. One of those he meets is the dragon Orm Ebbar, and by understanding the vague speeches of the dragon, Ged is given two things: clues to defeating the evil that he seeks, and information on finding the other half of the ring of Erreth-Akbe, since he has unknowingly found one half on his journey.
::: Sounds Familiar... :::
If the story of A Wizard of Earthsea sounds familiar, you are right. Reminiscent of stories such as the Star Wars movies, as well as Lord of the Rings, Ged's story is that of a young man's journey to adulthood and the obstacles he encounters along the way. Of course, the addition of an evil spirit who can assume different forms, and traveling between islands for days on end in a small boat lends a somewhat different feel to the novel, but the end result is always the same.
This makes it sound like the book is just another version of the same old story, but that's far from the truth. LeGuin has a way of storytelling that keeps the reader interested in finding out what happens next, but without rushing the story. Even the days- and sometimes weeks-long journeys across the sea don't seem slow as Ged learns more about himself and the other peoples of Earthsea.
At the end of A Wizard of Earthsea, I can virtually guarantee you will be looking for the next book in the Cycle to continue reading about what happens to Ged and the world of Earthsea. While the action might be minimal in this book, LeGuin succeeds at making Ged a riveting character, able to be a hero with human fallibility.