Like A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA and THE TOMBS OF ATUAN, the third book of the Earthsea tetralogy examines the delicate balance between life and death. With the exception of TEHANU, Ged's most important quests involve facing and usually embracing the hidden realms of the dead and undead. From the moment Ged unleashes an undead spirit into the world to his fateful journey into the Dry Land, he is forced to truly understand the nature of evil and how it develops in men --- feeding on fear, pride, lust and greed.
In THE FARTHEST SHORE, Arren, a young prince of Enlad and the Enlades, approaches Ged, now the Archmage of Earthsea. Arren's father is also a wizard and fears that some evil is at work in the West Reach: "Spells have no power and wizardry is forgotten there." Convinced that all of Earthsea is in danger, Ged leaves his post as Archmage and goes on a dangerous quest with Arren to the end of the world. The novel is populated with a number of twisted characters, some of whom die extremely violent deaths. Their fear of dying is so profound that they seek to open the door between the lands of the living and the dead and achieve immortality. Of course, on Earthsea, the realm of the dead is hidden, but it is accessible to Ged.
Le Guin's characters are always complicated, and Ged demonstrates that his power, influence and wisdom can't protect him from envy. The Archmage doesn't want anyone to become immortal because it would threaten him. He would rather die then let them achieve their goal:
"The Archmage knew that they and others like them were seeking eternal life, had been promised it or drawn toward it, and might find it. In his pride as Archmage, he feared lest they might gain it; he envied them, and feared them, and would have no man greater than himself."
To preserve the balance between light and dark, Ged and Arren receive some much-needed assistance from the elusive dragons of Earthsea. To save Ged's life, the dragon Kalessin flies him to Roke where the final book of the series, TEHANU, begins.
Reviewed by Allie Cahill on June 1, 1984