I read Ursula K LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for my YA SFF literature class, but this is one of those books that doesn’t seem especially for younger readers (this is the biggest issue I’m finding odd as the course goes on, but I’ll talk about that more specifically some other time). It’s a tale of the early days of the wizard Sparrowhawk, who, we are informed at the very beginning, will become the greatest wizard of Earthsea. It follows him through his young life and apprenticeships and studying at a wizard academy (which I suppose is why this is here in the YA section).
It’s full of good stuff. There is a duel with some dragons that is much less gritty than Aerin’s dragon fighting, and with much more majesty than Jack & Olaf’s. Sparrowhawk is arrogant and powerful and learns the true names of so many things, which is kind of the key to the novel. That’s how the magic works: you speak spells but in order to say a spell you need to be talking about the correct thing. And knowing the correct name of a thing or a person isn’t easy. In his training he unleashes a terrible thing on the world that kills the archmage and hunts him throughout. Knowing it and the difference between escaping and meeting your fate is a major chunk of the book.
There are a bunch of Earthsea books and while this didn’t have the same gender-issues or interesting political structures that some of LeGuin’s other books have, it was still pretty excellent.