Review: Tales from Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle Book 5 of 6ish)

Tales from Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin

Tales from Earthsea is an anthology of five stories that take place at various time periods before, during, and after the previous four books.  In the author’s introduction, she says these stories should be read after the first four books. I would definitely agree; I think some of these stories would be less meaningful without already knowing how they fit into the larger story.  I normally find anthologies to be pretty unsatisfying, because the stories are so short and I like longer, meatier stories.  However, I really enjoyed this anthology because the stories felt more like they were just part of the larger series and that larger series added the depth and context.

The first story, The Finder, is the longest story and represents a third of the book.  It’s set long before the first Earthsea book during a time when people with magical abilities were feared and either killed or forced to work for powerful men for ignoble purposes.  The story focuses on a boy known as Otter who has magical abilities.  Although this book takes place too far in the past to have any familiar characters, it does give us some history directly related to some very familiar aspects of the main series.  I enjoyed this story, and I liked Otter.

The second story, Darkrose and Diamond, didn’t have any direct connection to anything from the previous Earthsea books.  It too tells the story of a young boy with magical abilities, but it’s a pretty different story.  The boy, Diamond, is also gifted with music and he’s in love with a girl he grew up with.  His potential wizardry, his father’s expectations, his love for music, and his love for the girl all seem to be in conflict with each other.  This story was a little too romance-y for my tastes.  It wasn’t a bad story over all, but it had some of those romance tropes that really drive me nuts such as one character automatically assuming the worst, and the other character somehow failing to spit out the three-word explanation that could have quickly set things right.  I hate it when characters are made to act like idiots for the sake of increasing romantic tension.

The third story, The Bones of the Earth, was a good one.  We gain insight into Ogion’s past and we learn the details behind the event he’s famous for.  The story is mostly told from the perspective of the master that Ogion was apprenticed to, and I think it left me with more questions about Ogion than answers, but I really enjoyed it and I wish it had been longer and more detailed.

The fourth story, On the High Marsh, introduces us to an adult sorcerer who seems to be half out of his mind.  He’s good with animals, bad with people, and just seems generally confused.  Eventually we learn his story and it ties to a familiar character from the main books.  I enjoyed this story and I had fun trying to guess what was up with the sorcerer.  

According to the author’s introduction, the fifth story, Dragonfly, is intended as a bridge between the fourth and sixth books.  We’re introduced to a new character, a girl called Dragonfly.  Like most of the main characters throughout this series, she has power.  However, there’s some confusion as to just what kind of power she has.  I really liked this one, and I look forward to seeing what happens to Dragonfly next.  I’m assuming she will be a major character in the sixth book.

The author really tells a lot of different “coming of age” stories within this one series.  We have Ged in the first book, Tenar in the second, and Arren in the third.  One could arguably count Therru in the fourth book, but the meat of the story was far less about her than it was about Tenar and Ged so I wouldn’t count it.  Then in this anthology we have Otter, Diamond, and Dragonfly.  I’m not counting Ogion since the glimpse we were given was so brief and limited.  One might expect this common theme to get repetitive, but it really didn’t for me.  Each of the characters were distinctive and interesting, and the stories were all different.

Only one more book to go!  I’ve actually only been reading this series for about 10 days, because the books are so short, but it feels like I’ve been living in this world longer.