This has always been my least favourite of the Earthsea books, and I think that’s sort of inevitable given the central conflict, the issue that the whole book centres around. It’s about magic dying out, about death and fighting death and being afraid of death, where few people are whole and entire and able to see the world as it is rather than wishing it was something else. Ged is one of those people, of course: he’s the Archmage for a reason, and more importantly, he’s faced the dark part of himself and accepted it.
But it’s not primarily about Ged: it’s primarily about Arren and his journey to kingship. We saw Ged from an outside POV in The Tombs of Atuan, and it’s not as though Tenar completely trusted or respected him instantly… but Arren’s distrust and indifference at times grate, especially set against his hero worship at first.
I can see the beauty of the story, of what Ged does, but I don’t enjoy it. It’s a shadow of a story, a feeling of foreboding – the shadow at the door. It’s, in part, an ending to an adventure that I wanted more of. It makes sense that Earthsea has to change, but that doesn’t reconcile me to the fact.
Needless to say, Ursula Le Guin’s writing is great and that’s not the problem.