The Farthest Shore

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Cover image

Series: Earthsea #3
Publisher: Bantam
Copyright: September 1972
Printing: October 1975
ISBN: 0-553-26847-3
Format: Mass market
Pages: 197

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As with the other Earthsea books, The Farthest Shore stands on its own fairly well, but reading the previous two books first will help provide some background and add more depth to the story.

While The Farthest Shore is closer to A Wizard of Earthsea in overall style than it is to The Tombs of Atuan, the style is again subtly different. The Farthest Shore is another travelogue, the plot revolving around the search for why magic is draining out of the world. The narrative voice avoids the distance and reserve of Wizard, however, vividly showing the reader the emotions of the viewpoint character and giving the plot more of a sense of immediacy. I appreciated that; I prefer a close viewpoint for a coming of age story.

Ged is again a significant supporting character rather than the viewpoint character, and I think he works much better that way. He provides a good experienced and reserved touchstone for the other characters and the plot to play off of, without his reserve getting in the way of letting the reader identify with the viewpoint character. I found the descriptions in Shore to be more engaging than those in Wizard as well, giving me more of a sense of place; I think that may be because there were fewer of them and each got more attention.

The plot itself has a fairly straightforward skeleton, but Le Guin weaves a compelling tapestry around it. As with the previous two books, the story is more about decisions, ethics, and philosophy than it is about power, tactics, and events, and the key to the struggle lies in the characters confronting and understanding the balances and costs of the world rather than simply overpowering some obstacle.

My favorite portion of The Farthest Shore is when Arren searches for Ged's critique and approval of his actions and realizes that Ged is not going to provide it but instead simply trusts him. This is the sort of moment that is handled poorly, if at all, in many other coming of age stories. Le Guin's treatment made me stop, think, and then reconsider what the right thing for Ged to do would be, and that's a philosophical depth that's great to read.

Le Guin packs many riches into only a few pages, making the Earthsea books a great choice when one is looking for something short. The Tombs of Atuan is still my favorite of the first three Earthsea books, but I can confidently recommend The Farthest Shore as well.

Followed by Tehanu.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-12-13

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