A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

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How does one sit down and review Ursula K. LeGuin? Honestly, I'm skeptical that I can do it, but I'll try. You don't sit down after reading one of her books for the first time and think about all the ways it could have been better. You even have a hard time sorting out the things you love, because it was all just so good.

I was worried, at the start, because there were resemblances to a book that I read last year and had ambivalent feelings about; another story about a talented but arrogant young wizard who is going to be hot shit someday, but needs to be taken down a few pegs first. Of course, the problem in the other story is that an older version of that young wizard is our narrator, so though he gets into scrapes and lets his pride get the better of him, he's never really in the wrong, or was only wrong so that he could learn a lesson that would make him great in the end. I'm not sure if it's because of the narrator, or if it's a flaw in that other story, but while our young wizard certainly learns a wide variety of things, there's a cocky smugness that never truly leaves him, no matter what messes he gets himself into. Some people might like that in a character; I found him insufferable.

Ged doesn't have that problem. While he may start out as an arrogant young brat with an excess of pride, he doesn't stay that way. He screws up in a really major way that changes his life forever, and instead of grinning and clevering himself out of it, he changes. He matures. He is afraid, and he knows despair, and in the end it's determination, maturity, and acceptance that win him the day instead of his cleverness. He learns how to lean on his best friend for help, and he learns something sobering about himself in the process. The Ged that comes out of the other side of this adventure has been stripped to his core, and his core contains wisdom, humility, and self-knowledge instead of a cheeky grin and a clever mind.

That is to say that this book is probably the best version of this particular kind of story that I've read thus far, and I enjoyed it immensely. If you like a mythic fantasy, I would suggest you give this one a shot. It's a story with the mythic tone that I find particularly cozy--it's the kind of story I imagine read aloud beside a roaring fire in a fireplace while everyone clusters around to hear the tale--and on top of that, it's got a good heart.

Plus, it's Ursula K. LeGuin. She won't steer you wrong.

5/5 stars on Goodreads.