As a hardcore and devoted Earthsea fan, I was a bit nervous at first about reading Ursula K. LeGuin’s story collection Tales from Earthsea because I knew that it would introduce some radically new characters, explore Earthsea from different angles, and perhaps rock my vision of the fantasy realm in ways that a fan might not exactly appreciate. Learn the truth about how Ogion stopped the mountain from quaking? Learn about the founding of Roke? Learn the “backstory” behind everything, before Ged, Tenar, all my beloved characters?
But as it turns out … the book is awesome. I’m glad I read it and am adding it to my shelf of favourites; here, Ms. LeGuin delivers to us another tome of inspiring fantasy tales that are brilliantly woven, adeptly placed, and thrillingly beautiful through and through. Her prose is lyrical, lifting the stories to just a shade below divinity. The characters are as engaging as ever, unique in their personal quests yet very familiar and mundane in their integrity. And her stories are gripping, enticing enough that you will probably blaze through them all in one sitting, just like a dragon breathing out one long breath.
Aside from the plots of the stories themselves — forbidden romances, internal discoveries of ill-gained power, triumphs over darkness, battles, either real or imaginary — you do find out a lot of backstory, a lot of things that explain events in other Earthsea novels you might have cherished. Rest assured: the backstory isn’t anything that would rock your vision of the world; it actually will only enhance your understanding of Earthsea, add layers of more meaning to things that occurred in the previous stories. Quite a few times while reading this book, I said, a la typical fangirl, “OMG! OMG! That’s — that’s him! Him from the — from the other place! Gasp! Pant! So that’s why it happened the way it did!”
Of the handful of stories contained in this tome, “Dragonfly” and “On the High Marsh” were my definite favourites. They were stunningly written and as easy to read as swallowing honey. They are also the ones that blaze strongest with the torch of Earthsea, bringing us into the lives of familiar characters to find out what was happening between books, which will probably shock you, surprise you, and make you fall even more in love with Earthsea.
This collection is a must for anyone who likes Ms. LeGuin’s work, or anyone who appreciates good fantasy.
[Reviewed by Belle DiMonté.]