Review: The Tombs of Atuan

“She was not accustomed to thinking about things changing, old ways dying and new ones arising. She did not find it comfortable to look at things in that light.” p 29

The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Cycle #2) by Ursula K. LeGuin.
My edition Aladdin Paperbacks, New York, 2001; originally published 1970.
Middle grade fantasy, 180 pages.
Lexile:  840L  .
AR Level:  5.9 (worth 7.0 points)  .
NOTE: Second book in the original Earthsea trilogy.

Young Tenar has become Arha, the Eaten One, servant to the highest powers of her land.  Solely in charge of rites to infrequently-worshiped deities, she is set apart, both the most powerful and powerless priestess.  Shortly after accepting her full powers,  she faces an unexpected challenge – a Havenorian wizard entered the sacred labyrinth and walks where none but her must tread.

Aladdin Fantasy Favorites promotion Tombs of Atuan cover resized
The Fantasy Favorites promotion is not a sticker, it’s printed directly on the cover of this book! But it did mean this copy of The Tombs of Atuan cost a mere dollar second hand.

All of the books in the original Earthsea trilogy are said to be variations on coming-of-age, and I’d have to agree.  Although set in the same world as A Wizard of Earthsea, Tombs of Atuan is told entirely from Tenar’s viewpoint, and it isn’t immediately clear how the two connect.  Back when I first started reading LeGuin, I read this before either of the other Earthsea books, which don’t seem to have been obviously numbered in most versions.

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Review: Wizard of Earthsea

“Just as he turned Ged saw a change in his face, a slurring and shifting of the features, as if for a moment something had changed him, used him, looking out through his eyes sidelong at Ged. Yet the next minute Ged saw him fullface, and he looked as usual, so that Ged told himself that what he had seen was his own fear, his own dread reflected in the other’s eyes.” page 104

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle #1) by Ursula K. LeGuin.
My copy Bantam books New York, 1977; originally published 1968.
Fantasy, 184 pages.  
Lexile:  1150L  .
AR Level:  6.7 (worth 9.0 points)  .
NOTE:  First book in a trilogy, later expanded to become a series.

The early life and first adventures of the wizard Ged, a future archmage of Earthsea.

 

The 1977 Bantam Book mass market paperback edition of LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea focuses heavily on one chapter involving a dragon for the cover art.

So much to unpack in this novel.  First, I’d like to point out the original publication date.  As I’ve mentioned before, my reviews of older books are based on somewhat different expectations than a newly released publication.

This book was written for young adults at a time when that wasn’t even a category in most libraries, but it’s been variously marketed to MG or adult readers.  I had so much to say about how the majority of Earthsea covers utterly fail in their depiction of any main character that it’s a separate post. Here I’ll simply say that if you happen to pick up a copy that avoids depicting the main character’s race by putting a dragon on the cover instead, don’t expect a dragon story. As the title indicates, this story follows a wizard as his magical gifts and personal life develop, and the dragon plays only a small role.

A Wizard of Earthsea is the story of a young boy with a strong magical gift who leaves his rather pastoral homeland of Gont in stages to move ever onward, convinced by his natural talent and strong will that he will never meet a problem he can’t solve. Of course, he eventually meets his match and ends up literally and emotionally scarred and driven to correct his mistake – but having waited longer than others to find his boundaries, the corresponding payment is also higher.

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Rant About #coverfail in Earthsea

A thousand words (and some pictures) about depictions of Earthsea and the importance of cover art that better reflects diverse fantasy novels.

I was planning to cover this topic as part of my forthcoming review of A Wizard of Earthsea, the first book in the Earthsea Cycle (formerly trilogy) but could not cut it down to any reasonable length, and the same topic applies to many other books, including the rest of that series.

Ruth Robbins Wizard of Earthsea first cover
The first cover of A Wizard of Earthsea was illustrated by Ruth Robbins.

The first Earthsea book was published in 1968 and in the intervening 50 years, they’ve come to be seen as something of a classic of fantasy literature, frequently compared to Tolkien or the Chronicles of Narnia.  They are not without failings (which I’ll try to address in my reviews), but the Earthsea books do have one major difference to many commonly known “classic” works of fantasy – the vast majority of LeGuin’s Earthsea characters are NOT white.

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