Life After Harry Potter

Other Books
in This Series

  1. A Wizard of Earthsea
  2. The Tombs of Atuan
  3. The Wind’s Twelve Quarters*
  4. Tehanu:  The Last Book of Earthsea
  5. Tales from Earthsea
  6. The Other Wind

* This book contains twelve short stories:  two are set in the world of Earthsea.
Life After H P

Book Review


The Farthest Shore The Farthest Shore

by Ursula K. Le Guin


Sparrowhawk | Adventure | Dragons | Minor Positive Points | Male Feelings | Victory | Death | Minor Negative Points | Adult Content | Conclusion | Edition | Errors

This review will begin with positive aspects:  the author’s characters, adventure, portrayal of dragons, and other things.  It will then provide an overview of the shortcomings:  the uncomfortable depiction of (supposedly) platonic male love, the manner in which the villain is overcome, the portrayal of life after death, and some minor problems.  Finally is a review of adult content, a conclusion and a short review of the edition I read.

First, the good.  Most importantly, fans of the first book will find that this adventure centers around Sparrowhawk and only one other main character.  Although the adventure is narrated from the point of view of Sparrowhawk’s companion, Arren, it is thoroughly in the same vein as that first work, and travel into danger and unknown with this unparalleled wizard is the centerpoint of the story.

Just as important, it is an adventure.  Unlike the previous book, The Tombs of Atuan, this story has a real quest with a real goal and real exploration that happens along the way.  Indeed, in this story Sparrowhawk and Arren explore nearly all of the regions of Earthsea not previously explored in the first two books.  Additionally, this book does not suffer from the descriptive sparseness present in the first.  Although still no comparison to Tolkien, the ocean voyages are described much more completely, as are the surroundings and the characters’ motivations. Here, Sparrowhawk is searching for the cause of a widespread draining of magic from the world.  Using this ominous and hidden threat to provide the impetus not only for the adventure, but for a far-flung journey and investigation, is quite ingenious.  The adventurers have to traverse the islands of Earthsea in order to locate the source of the draining, they have to investigate at every port of call, and they have to hurry before the world is entirely drained of magic and, maybe, life.

Another pleasant aspect of this tale is the manner in which dragons are portrayed.  Sparrowhawk is reticent in giving details about them to Arren, and it seems to me to be exactly the right amount to both tantalize and satisfy the reader.  It also sets up a later encounter in a very subtle but informative manner.  I feel that the dragon-related portions of this book are its strongest point. In fact, this books describes dragons in a manner superior to any other book that I have read.

There are some additional positive points of less importance but worthy of mention.  The author spares some effort to (slightly) expand our knowledge of past events, something sorely lacking in the first book. Another aspect I found positive was the description of terror.  It was conveyed to the reader very well, and this is something not easy to do.

Now, for the features which detract from the enjoyment of this book. First and foremost are the feelings that Arren has for Sparrowhawk.  It begins as “love at first sight”, what I would think of as an infatuation.  In my experience, this is unheard of between men.  Certainly, platonic male love can occur, but usually it grows from respect, or from some other aspect revealed during the course of a relationship extending over a period of time, not from sight.  The fact that Arren’s feeleings are described as “ardor” does not help the situation, nor does his subtle but unmistakeable physical attraction to Sparrowhawk.  Additionally, when Sparrowhawk invites a third man to join them on their quest, Arren becomes unaccountably upset.  Unaccountable, that is, unless you realize that Arren is jealous of this third man, with whom Sparrowhawk is willing to share the adventure.  This concept is so juvenile that it wasn’t until my second reading, and some reflection on the matter, that I was able to understand why Arren was so vehemently opposed to the third companion’s inclusion.  Even though Arren is young (nineteen), this seems completely out of character for any heterosexual male.  Arren nearly ends his part in the quest at this point, and only because of his promise to Sparrowhawk to see it through does he force himself to continue.  This, all just because another man joins the quest!

Another major flaw with this book is the manner in which victory over the villain is achieved.  This supremely evil villain possesses immense power  He is in the process of draining the entire world of magic, enslaving the minds of the entire population (both alive and dead), and possibly of ending life itself.  He offers the people of Earthsea eternal life in return for their true name, their magic, and their passion for life.  This Satan-like being, who literally cannot be killed, is not defeated by the power or skill or even persistence of Sparrowhawk or Arren, but by (briefly) persuading him of the error of his ways!  Normally, a world-ending megalomaniac supervillain is not turned into a “nice guy” just by convincing him that he missed the boat! Yet, that is exactly what happens in this story.  The villain, at being informed that he has missed the big picture, gives up and starts bawling.  All the heroes have to do after achieving this resounding victory is to put a halt to those things which the villain has already put into motion and escape the world into which they have ventured to face him.  The former is accomplished by Sparrowhawk straining for a few moments.  The latter, by the simple expedient of — well, that would be giving away the end of the story.  Suffice it to say that it is not exactly the most difficult thing ever accomplished by man.

The final major deficit of this book is the Hadean manner in which death is portrayed.  Perhaps it is because I am Christian, but I find the description of death as a colorless eternity of depression and overwhelming listlessness to be extremely unpleasant.  Even the greatest, most noble and self-sacrificing of heroes are subjected to this hideous fate.  Simply ceasing to exist would be a far more desirable end to life.

There are some other points which detract from the excellence of this book.  Again, we see that the author’s descriptive abilities are substantial, but they in no way compare to the master, Tolkien.  Although the author appears to have more free reign here in providing backstory, particularly with the dragons, I still feel as if it is incomplete.  In particular, the details of Erreth-Akbe and his battle with the dragon should be more thoroughly explored, as it seems to have a significant bearing on the final chapters of the story.  Also, the author continues to fail to explore the magic of this world to a satisfactory depth.  Although some minor points are brought up, it is mostly a reiteration of what has been mentioned in the previous books, and runic magic continues to get no mention whatsoever.

There is no adult content whatsoever.

Conclusion:  this is the best book of the Earthsea series yet, but it still falls short of true excellence.  If the author had developed the male love more realistically (or toned it down a lot), spent even more effort on description, and ended the conflict with something more exciting than “Hey, dude, you’re missing the point!”, it would have achieved the excellence that fantasy books so rarely achieve.

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The April, 2005 Science Fiction Book Club edition was reviewed (ISBN:  978-0-7394-5271-4).  This is a hard-cover (cardboard?) book with a glued (not stitched) binding.  This omnibus edition also contains the first two stories in the series, A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan.  Unlike the first two books in this edition, which were surprisingly completely error-free, I detected nine printing errors in this third story.  This is hardly excessive, but unfortunately mars an otherwise perfect printing.  My main complaint, again, concerns the maps.  The main map is too small, and the “blow up” maps are scattered throughout the text of the frist story and, in addition, are only marginally relevant to this third story. Overall, a very good edition at a decent price ($20.98, price includes shipping).  If chosen as a Science Fiction Book Club introductory selection, it is an excellent value (under $6.00). I can also be persuaded to provide this volume, new, at two dollars over my cost, to those who are interested.  Please e-mail me with your request.

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List of Printing Errors

Page Line Error Correction Description
344 5 Lo o k Look spaces embedded in word
358 34 made, Arren made Arren superfluous comma
360 41 Lo ngago Long ago wrong word division
372 20 Re Alibi Re Albi added “i”
384 6 wwe we added “w”
390 1 Fo ra For a wrong word division
392 20 Atren Arren misspelling
399 29 and, sorrowful and sorrowful superfluous comma
407 36 myself? myself! or myself. question mark inappropriate here
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