Audiobook Review: A Wizard Of Earthsea: The First Book Of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

“You must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on from that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard’s power of Changing and of Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow…”

audiobookHello again to you all. Forgive my extensive quotation. I thought it might be interesting to discuss another classic story. One with quite the reputation. Last time I did this I discussed the science fiction classic Foundation by Issac Asimov (depending on if you count Frozen Hell or not) but this time I think it is the turn of a classic fantasy story.

A Wizard Of Earthsea by Le Guin is quite an interesting read or listen. Despite being originally conceived of and written as a children’s (although I suppose it would be considered Young Adult or YA nowadays) novel and released in 1968 it has since developed quite the following among children and adults alike and in some cases is one of the classic stories that gets shared between generations much like Lord Of The Rings, the Discworld stories by Pratchett and the Narnia series. Personally I had heard of Earthsea or The Earthsea Cycle as the series is collectively called but I had never read it until recently and honestly didn’t think it originated in the 1960s. But perhaps I should get to the review already?

A Wizard Of Earthsea is the coming of age story for Sparrowhawk – for I cannot use his true name – as the young man from the town of Gont is taught to use his magical abilities. His great natural talent and power and how to control it. But he must also learn at the magic school on the island of Roke the limitations of his power. When it is safe to use it. How to use it safely…and the consequences of one’s hubris should one become too overconfident. We follow Sparrowhawk from his childhood as an ignorant child with no knowledge of any magic up to his true maturation as a wizard who has fought the living shadow.

The writing of Le Guin is wonderful. The story itself is told relatively simply but there is quite an extensive use of symbolism throughout – the use of balance in the above quotation only being one such example – while it seems that Le Guin has written the story in a style very similar to some of the great epics of the past. This means the story flows wonderfully and it feels like you go through the entire tale in no time at all! It certainly made very easy and enjoyable listening for myself.

To the point that – even though I haven’t yet listened to books two and three in the first Earthsea trilogy – simply on the strength of the first book alone, if you are trying to find a book to interest young people in fantasy or wizards and don’t want to use a certain scarred chosen one you could choose a lot worse than A Wizard Of Earthsea.

The narrator for A Wizard Of Earthsea is someone I am very familiar with and have praised extensively in the past: Kobna Holdbrook-Smith who acts as narrator for the Rivers Of London series I have discussed twice in the past regarding Lies Sleeping and False Value. As a matter of fact it was Kobna’s involvement in this release of Earthsea that got me to try it in the first place.

His narration for this particular audio is extremely enjoyable with all characters being given a suitably unique accent and voice. Some of my favourites include the voice used for Sparrowhawk himself which noticeably ages and matures with the character himself and the voice used for Sparrowhawk’s most respected teacher Ogion The Silent who comes across as a perfect ‘wise old man’ or wise mage figure. I’m very glad that my curiosity about Kobna’s other work allowed me to discover something else so enjoyable. I definitely plan to get the other books. Holdbrook-Smith also acts as the narrator of the third novel of the original trilogy The Farthest Shore although for in story reasons he is not the narrator of book two in the series The Tombs Of Atuan.

In conclusion I found this audio edition of A Wizard Of Earthsea to be an interesting and enticing story. It is well written with a great understanding of its own setting to the point that it is easily one you can get lost in and lose track of time entirely. Some day soon I shall have to investigate these tombs which call the Sparrowhawk. And while I do that? I hope I can persuade some of the curious to either explore the archipelago of Earthsea or to return to it and the many stories and adventures held therein.

“Only in silence the word, only in dark the light, only in dying life: bright the hawk’s flight on the empty sky.”



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