Book reviews / Fantasy

Book review: Earthsea – The First Four Books

Confession time: I never read any Ursula Le Guin as a child or as a teenager. The first time I picked up a book by her was when reading/torturing myself with The List.

I absolutely loved The Dispossessed and was less enamoured with Left Hand of Darkness, the first four Earthsea books fall somewhere in between. However, I found them very interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, you could see the fingerprints of these novels all over other novels I have read. Who knows if they were actually influential, but I could suddenly see tropes that I really enjoyed or that were really well executed in other novels with their genesis in one of these stories.

The other thing that I saw in these novels was the humanism permeated throughout. I think this was especially evident in The Farthest Shore, which felt like a whole mediation on why everlasting life would be terrible. However, it also felt like part of The Tombs of Atuan, where the main character Tenar basically has to leave a cult. And then the final book Tehanu felt like a mediation on power, women’s position in the world and acceptance.

The last novel was by far my favourite, followed by Tombsd of Atuan, I think because I love Tenar as a character. She has to really struggle and is also just so practical and knowledgeable. She is one of the only characters who call out Ged on all his bullshit. I grew to like Ged a bit more, but he is quite a selfish character in many ways. I also really, really liked Therru, so much that I’m going to read book 5 and 6 so I can find out more about her story.

I’m glad I read them, as there were very interesting, but really felt like these are the sort of books you want to read as a teenager. It was fine, but feels of its age, and I’ve read newer books that have perhaps handled some of the concepts in more interesting ways. As well, it perhaps can’t quite escape its time – such as references to sexual violence still occur, if muted, but still present. And despite the musing on women’s place in the world, the world is one where women are oppressed and taken for granted.

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