A Wizard of Earthsea: Not convinced yet.
This is the first volume in the Earthsea quartet (followed by The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore and Tehanu).
After his mother's death, young Ged gets to live with his father, a smith, and his aunt the village witch, who teaches him some minor spells, such as commanding to animals, until one day he uses this magic to save the village from barbaric invaders.
Impressed by the boy's potential powers, the mage Ogion takes him as apprentice. But as the days go by, Ged becomes bored and when the choice is offered him, he decides to go to the wizards school of Roke. There he meets with two other scholars: Vetch who'll soon become his friend, and the arrogant Jasper who always looks down on him, and who'll become his rival.
And after several months spent in the school, with hatred steadily growing between them, Ged one day challenges Jasper in a magic duel. And as Ged, in a surge of immoderate pride, is trying to wake the dead, he accidentally unleashes an evil shadow, also almost managing to get himself killed in the process. The story goes on to describe Ged perpetual flight from his shadow.
Ursula LeGuin's style is elaborate and poetic, but maybe a little bit too much, too old-fashioned, for my liking. As a result, the novel somehow failed to fascinate me, and in the end I realized I didn't care much about what happened to the characters. I'll read the rest of the quartet anyway, in hope it gets more gripping.
The Tombs of Atuan: Unexpectedly gripping.
This is the second volume in the Earthsea quartet (following A Wizard of Earthsea and followed by The Farthest Shore and Tehanu).
The story takes place on the desert island of Atuan. There, in a terrifying ritual, a five-year-old little girl becomes Arha, the Eaten One. As the years go by in the Place of the Tombs, among an odd community of young scholar girls, old women and eunuchs, she learns the sacred dances and songs devoted to the Nameless Ones.
At the age of fourteen, she finally becomes the One Priestess, the guardian of the Great Treasure, and the only one to know the ways of the Labyrinth, a place of utter darkness where men are not allowed and cruelly put to death if found there.
The story was beginning to bore me, I was watching Arha becoming more arrogant, and old Kossil meaner, by the day and I was reluctantly facing the fact that I didn't care much for her... until the middle of the book, until Arha one day comes across a dim light in the pitch black of the Labyrinth. And as it brings a complete upheaval in Arha's well-ordered and dull life, with it the story also becomes enthralling and finally I almost couldn't put the book down. I hope The Farthest Shore won't disappoint me...
The Farthest Shore: A nice story, but not very enthralling.
This is the third volume in the Earthsea quartet (following A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan, and followed by Tehanu).
The Farthest Shore, set some fifteen or twenty years after the events of The Tombs of Atuan, tells the story of Ged, now an Archmage, and Arren, a young prince, and their voyage around the world of Earthsea in search of the Unmaker, who is responsible for the disappearence of magic and of the balance of the world.
Compared to The Tombs of Atuan, I found this third part rather disapointing and lacking in action. Ged and Arren are just travelling from one island to the next, and nothing really happens. The evolution of their friendship is interesting, though, and that's what kept me reading. But as a whole, I found the series rather boring, although well written if you like old-fashioned style, and will only read Tehanu for the sake of it.
Tehanu: The best book in the series.
This is the fourth and final volume in the Earthsea quartet (following A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore).
In this book, Ursula K. LeGuin goes back to Tenar, now a middle-aged farm woman, to tell us the story of her life after the events of The Tombs of Atuan. Only recently a widow, she decides to take the child Therru under her wing, a little girl who has been cruelly raped and terrifyingly burnt and maimed by her parents who, fearing her, wanted to get rid of her.
The story goes on to describe their life on the farm on the island of Gont, Therru growing up, and their perpetual flight from the child's family who want to "finish the job".
Tehanu was written some fifteen years after the original Earthsea trilogy, and the evolution in Ursula K. LeGuin's style, as well as the maturation of the whole Earthsea world are quite noticeable.
This is a stunning conclusion to the series, that got me hooked right from the beginning. And what a pleasure to meet again with all the main characters of Earthsea!