The Farthest Shore (Ursula K. Le Guin 1972)

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First off, apologies for missing last Saturday’s update, things have been busy. Without further ado, let’s begin. The Farthest Shore is the third book in the Earthsea series. I have reviewed them quite a lot but this is in part due to the speed at which I’ve read them. The Farthest Shore continues the adventures of Ged, who is now Archmage. Once again this adventure is shown through the viewpoint of another character, Arren, who is the young Prince of Enlad. The novel follows their journey as they search for the cure to a mysterious evil that has spread over the land, which is causing magic to weaken and make people and animals turn sick or go mad. The journey takes them on a quest throughout the islands not too different to Ged’s own from the first book.

Like the other novels this is a coming of age story for Arren, the protagonist. In some ways this is a recurring theme amongst the first three Earthsea novels. The plot in some ways is more interesting than the previous novel The Tombs of Atuan since it shows us more of the Earthsea world as a whole. This gives us more depth into the setting, a lot more than what we were shown in The Tombs of Atuan. The prominence of dragons in the main plot was something I found interesting since they seemed to have an awe inspiring presence on the page, particularly since the dragons in the Earthsea series are usually quite intelligent, though the plot has rendered a number of them dumb and hostile.

With regards to characters I can’t help but feel that Ged has gotten a bit less interesting now that he is a bit older. The fact that he is no longer the main character in the story is also a factor in this. Unlike, Tenar, Arren is not an interesting enough character to carry the story on his own. Even though some aspects of Tenar as a character weren’t perfect, she carried the story well enough on her own, unlike Arren. As far as I was concerned Arren was nothing more than Ged’s sidekick who also happens to be a prince with some kind of destiny about him. On paper he sounds like an interesting character but in practice I felt like he played second fiddle to Ged despite his backstory and apparent main role in the plot.

Like before I felt like the novel spent a bit long wandering about, similar in some ways to A Wizard of Earthsea, before suddenly remembering that it has a plot to finish. Perhaps I’m used to books with a bit more action in but it just felt very slow towards the beginning all the way through to the middle of the book. I didn’t have any clue what was causing the illness until the dragon Orm Embar shows up and explains everything, making him a minor example of a flying deus ex machina. I say a minor example since for the most part it is the actions of Ged and Arren which end the overall conflict but the manner in which they are notified of the cause of the illness seemed a bit abrupt.

The villain Cob, in addition to having a lame sounding name, isn’t introduced until later on in the novel, even in passing. The connection to Ged seems a bit abrupt since he is not a villain from any of the previous novels and the supposed conflict between the two happened off the page. All in all he seemed rather underdeveloped as a character and seemed to exist for the sake of creating conflict. Even so, I have to admit that the novel gave him a suitable climax, I just wish his presence could have been foreshadowed a bit more directly in the chapters prior to when he is first name dropped.

Overall I feel like the novel had good points and bad point. It is by no means terrible but nothing struck me out as great. In terms of structure it is a bit of repeat of A Wizard of Earthsea, but about the growing up arc of a character much less interesting than Ged. The plot is likewise quite similar to A Wizard of Earthsea, and on paper the scale of the plot appears to make it sound more interesting. In execution however the plot’s potential seems to fall flat a little by repeating a lot of the peculiar conventions of previous novels. Even so the series has its own quirky little charm and I look forward to reading more.

SCORE: 3.5/5

IN A WORD: DULL

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