This is a different fantasy story than what I am used to. Fantasy often involves page after page of trolls, dwarfs, elves and wizards with strange names locked in epic wars and quests. While that formula is all fine and good, by keeping action to a minimum and philosophy to a maximum, Ursula K. le Guin departs from it somewhat in the story "A Wizard of Earthsea."
The story involves the early exploits of the powerful archmage Ged, when he was a young man named Sparrowhawk. At a young age he is living with an abusive guardian, when he discovers he has magical powers. He then leaves this abusive person and goes off to wizard school to be learned in the arts of magery (sound familiar Potter fans?). There he befriends a fellow prentice named Vetch, and enters into a rivalry with another wizard prentice by the name of Jasper. This rivalry results in the release of a dark, evil shadow from the realm of "unlife" during a "wizard duel," when Ged casts a spell beyond his control. Ged then spends the length of the book first running from the shadow, which seeks to posses him, and then pursuing the shadow, seeking to destroy it, trying to undo the evil he had begun in a moment of stupid pride.
I have often felt that a good fantasy formula is pitting a fallible character(s) against the deeds of his errant actions. This formula is used in the Narnia books and also in Tolkien's stories. It is repeated in this book and works very well. While the obvious lack of action (although when there is action it happens with some amount of violence) may alienate traditional fantasy readers, the philosophy of the book and the examination of the balances between good and evil should appeal to adults and older children alike. The inclusion of maps and the well developed magic system, and the unique emphasis on names, also contributes to the plausibility of the book and gives it the characteristic feel of a good fantasy story. An excellent, highly-recommended book.