A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. ★★
The writing was beautiful and the world building interesting, but the pace was slow and the story clearly sexist.
A Wizard of Earthsea is a classic fantasy story about a Ged, a great sorcerer who makes a mistake when he’s a student. His mistake unleashes a terrible and unnamed shadow creature, which will destroy him if it can and then wreck havoc upon the world. The story’s reminiscent of a fable or fairy tale. The writing’s lyrical, and characters tend to be simplistically described. As other reviewers have pointed out, Le Guin tends to tell instead of show. I didn’t have too much of a problem with this aspect – for me, it added to the fable-like feeling of the story.
My biggest problem with A Wizard of Earthsea is that it’s openly sexist. Magic is explicitly only for men, and if a woman’s using magic, she’s clearly evil and ineffective:
“Weak as women’s magic” (page 5)
“Wicked as women’s magic” (page 6)
The few female characters present are primarily evil – Serret and Ged’s aunt for instance. Yarrow’s the only notably good female character, and she’s Ged’s best friend’s little sister who shows up in the second to last chapter. Her role is to look sweet and ask Ged questions. She’s described as beautiful but stupid:
Spoken by her brother: “This is my sister, the youngest of us, prettier than I am you see, but much less clever” (page 169)
Spoken by Yarrow herself: “I wish I could truly understand what you tell me. I am too stupid” (page 177)
All in all, it’s a rather vile image. The only good women are pretty, powerless, and stupid. They serve their men and don’t take actions of their own. I’m given to understand that this changes later in the series. The second book for instance, has a female protagonist. However, don’t expect to find any good female characters or even a book with female characters present in the plot in A Wizard of Earthsea.
The majority of characters do have dark skin, which makes it atypical, especially for a fantasy book published in the 1960s. While this is laudable, I’d have trouble recommending this book to anyone because of the prevalent sexism.