This celebrated 1968 book is the first in a series of at least five novels and one book of short stories set in the fantasy world of Earthsea, which some have compared favorably to C. S. Lewis Narnia and J. R. R. Tolkiens Middle-Earth. It tells of a world somewhat like Earth, except that mankind is confined to a scattering of islandssome of them quite large, most of them almost too small to show up on a mapmaking up a vast archipelago and several outlying reaches. It is a world of feudal lords and peasants, sailing boats and galleys, conquering hordes and pirates. It is a world where memory takes the form of songs and legends, and where witches, sorcerers, and wizards are abroad.
And it tells the beginning of the adventures of a great wizard whose name was Ged. But since, in his lifetime, like other men, Ged was very careful to share his true name only with the few that he implicitly trusted (because to know the true name of a thing is to hold power over it), he mostly went by the use-name of Sparrowhawk. His adventures began in a tiny mountain village, where the yet-unnamed 12-year-old drove off a band of marauders with the aid of his raw, unformed magical gift. Soon he is apprenticed to a silent, gentle mage named Ogion, but not for long. Spurred by his ambition, Ged goes off the the School of the Wise at Roke, where he quickly becomes a talent to watch. And, unfortunately, to envy.
The envy of another student, and Geds reckless pride, and the malice of a witch who serves the Dark Powers, lead to a great tragedy. Ged foolishly turns loose on the world a thing of shadow that must either hunt him, or be hunted by him, until either one or both are destroyed. Haunted by shame, fear, and self-doubt, Ged tries to solve the mystery of how to do away with the darkness he has summoned, before it possesses him and uses him to do even worse things. Meanwhile, he talks with dragons, sails the seas of his richly varied world, defies the Old Powers of the Earth, experiences the loneliness of the desert isle and the warmth of true friendship, and sails through unknown waters to the realm of death to face the thing he dreads most of all.
Accompanied by helpful maps, this book introduces us to a brilliantly imagined fantasy world, where a vast battle between light and darkness is telescoped into the intimate story of a youthful hero. Certainly it is on nothing like the scale of The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, but with a staggering economy of words (less than 200 pages) this book conjures a vivid picture of a vast, complex world, a deeply stirring adventure, and a hero whose deeds we will gladly follow into the sequel, The Tombs of Atuan.