The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin: A review

This is the third book in Ursula K. Le Guin's fantasy Earthsea series. In the first, A Wizard of Earthsea, we met Ged/Sparrowhawk as a young child who would be trained as a wizard. In the second, The Tombs of Atuan, we scarcely meet him at all until near the end when he encounters Tenar, the high priestess of Atuan, and together they take the lost half of the sacred ring of Erreth-Akbe from the said tombs. The whole ring, when reforged by Ged's magic, will help to ensure peace in Earthsea. Now, we meet him as a middle-aged man in his full power as a wizard. He is the Archmage (I imagine it as something like the pope) and he is a dragonlord, one who can ride dragons.

But all is not well in Earthsea. The world has fallen on hard times and darkness threatens to overtake it. The wizards who have kept things on a peaceful, even keel are losing their powers. Ged is determined to find out the cause of this disastrous turn of events.

He embarks on a treacherous journey to the ends of Earthsea to discover the cause of the evil that threatens to overwhelm his world. With him, he takes a young man named Arren, a prince of Enlad. In order to fulfill their quest, they must travel to the farthest reaches of their world and into the realm of death itself.

I have noted in my previous reviews of this series that it is unusual for a fantasy series in that it does not feature death and destruction on a massive scale and the protagonist does not seek the annihilation of anyone other than the evil force that threatens Earthsea. That continues to be true in this entry. His philosophy - and this book contains a lot of philosophical musings - is rather one of acceptance. Acceptance of what life brings and, finally, acceptance of death as a part of life. Ged says at one point, "A man does not make his destiny: he accepts it or denies it."

And again:
“Life rises out of death, death rises out of life; in being opposite they yearn to each other, they give birth to each other and are forever reborn. And with them, all is reborn, the flower of the apple tree, the light of the stars. In life is death. In death is rebirth. What then is life without death? Life unchanging, everlasting, eternal?-What is it but death-death without rebirth?” 
This was, without a doubt, my least favorite of the three books I've read. I began to find the prose really labored and difficult to read. Often I would find myself losing focus halfway through a passage and would have to stop and think, "Now what was this about?" Sometimes I had to reread a section to remind myself. Certainly this could partly be my fault as a reader, but clean, crisp prose would have made my reading task a lot easier.

There were parts of the book that I did really enjoy, my favorite being the descriptions of the Children of the Sea, people who live entirely on rafts that are connected together and float about in the great ocean, following the gray whales in their migration. It was a pleasant interlude in a book that otherwise did not give me great pleasure.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


  1. Too bad you didn't like this entry as much as the other ones.

    How many books are in this series?

    1. It was a bit of a disappointment for me. I believe there are two more in the series. I'm undecided as to whether I will read them.

  2. It's been a long, long time since I've read anything by Ursula LeGuin. But I admire her so much - 87 years old now.

    1. My original impetus for reading these works was seeing her name on a list of the ten most influential women writers, so, obviously, your admiration of her is shared by many.

  3. I am looking forward to reading this series when I get to it in my reading project. Even C S Lewis's Narnia series had some less than great ones, though I understand your problem with this third one. I think her more powerful work is in her books for adults. The ones I have read were great, especially The Left Hand of Darkness.

    1. I'll get to The Left Hand of Darkness at some point. I look forward to it.


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