Book Review – A Wizard of Earthsea


What is this? Two book reviews in two consecutive days!? I must have gone mad!

Not at all! But now that I have a little bit more spare time in my hands, I’d like to use it writing for this blog! God knows that these past two months have been hectic enough and that I couldn’t write nearly as much as I wanted to 😦

So today I bring you…


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.

Many of you will know the Earthsea Quartet as one of the first big sword and sorcery fantasy sagas. Something that I found really funny while reading the first book in the quartet, A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), was that many of the tropes and plot twists along the way were incredibly stale and overdone—until I realised this was the novel that introduced most of them, and that, at the time, they were very innovative and unusual.

In this novel, Sparrowhawk, a young man from the island of Gont, discovers that he holds magical power, and is trained by his aunt in the art of sorcery. When he saves his home town from invaders using his magic, a powerful mage called Ogion takes him under his wing. It is during this time that Sparrowhawk inadvertently unleashes a powerful shadow that will follow him wherever he goes.

Eventually, however, his home island grows too small for him, and he decides to set sail towards a school for wizards (Hogwarts anyone?) at the Island of Roke. During his studies, he excels in the use of magic, but also becomes proud and uses magic too powerful for him to control. It is here that he’ll discover the true nature of the shadow he summoned: it can feel Sparrowhawk’s presence, it can follow him anywhere, and it is bent on possessing his body. And, since it seems to be invincible, it’s only a matter of time before the shadow catches up with him…

It is really funny how many themes and images that we consider common in fantasy arose from this saga. Could the school of wizardry at Roke be the precedent from Harry Potter‘s Hogwart and The Name of the Wind‘s University? Could the knowledge and magic of true names be what inspired the core concept of Patrick Rothfuss’s novel?

One thing that has barely been repeated though, despite it being one of the coolest things in Earthsea, is the world itself: a large mass of water where there are no continents, only a few islands here and there. It is really interesting to see how these relate to each other and how tales and legends are passed from one island to the next.

Who would I recommend this to? The Earthsea Quartet is an epic classic that no fantasy fan should miss. This is the source of many of the themes and images that you have found in more modern novels. Sure, the writing sounds a bit unusual—this was written, after all, 49 years ago—but it’s still beautiful and enjoyable nowadays. If you haven’t read it yet, leave everything you’re doing right now and get it! You’ll thank me later 🙂

6 thoughts on “Book Review – A Wizard of Earthsea

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