This followed Tehanu after another long break and so I've only read it twice and don't have the same relationship to it as I do with the older Earthsea books.
Somehow this book is more than the sum of its parts; the individual stories are good but not excellent. The essay on Earthsea is interesting but because it is a set of working notes instead of a story it lacks lustre. Yet at the end of the book I felt that I knew Earthsea much better than at the start. It is a place of magic and epic adventure but also a place where people have ordinary problems. It is a place where history has been re-written, power has been fought over, usurped, stolen. A place where the truth of events is often unknown and myth and legend take its place. It's a lot like here, really, because it's populated by humans. Then again, it is very different because the humans have magic and there are dragons...
It was delightful to encounter Ged again, though in a story not really his. The history of Roke was startling and an excellent way to weave some constructive Feminism into Earthsea, after the unremitting negativity of Tehanu. The story of Irian has an annoying protagonist switch but otherwise serves well to link Tehanu back into the main theme of the Earthsea novels, a bridge to the final book, The Other Wind, as LeGuin says.
It was fun to learn the full story behind the legends and ballads, about Morred, his Enemy and Elfarren and also the complete story of Erreth-Akbe, the Ring and Orm.
This book seems best when seen as part of the whole, the fifth of six volumes, rather than standing alone.