I think the problem is I don't know where to find good books, and too many times I've picked books up essentially randomly off the shelf at Barnes. However, I think now my strategy has changed. Matt recently sent out on his dorks list the Top 50 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books listing. So I decided I'd pick one or two off it and go from there... First try: success.
I just finished Ursula Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, and it was spectacular. In a way it has much of the same "peephole" sort of feeling one gets reading Tolkien, that what the author is describing is just one saga of many that surround the story at hand. Ged, consumed by his insatiable pride, engages in a reckless contest of power against his rival, and agrees to raise a spirit from the dead, a spell forbidden to him. Tragically, the spell goes awry, and what is summoned instead is a terrible shadow from some nameless darkness, a "shadow of his arrogance and his ignorance". Although Ged narrowly escapes death, he is scarred beyond healing both physically and mentally. The shadow thereafter hunts him to devour him, and through him set loose a terrible evil upon the world. Ged's adventures describe his maturation, determination to undo what he did, and eventual redemption as he discovers the true nature of his shadow and what he must do to contain it.
I've included an excerpt here I especially liked:
From the Masters and from ancient lore-books Ged learned what he could about such beings as this shadow he had loosed; little was there to learn. No such creature was described or spoken of directly. There were at best hints here and there in the old books of things that might be like the shadow-beast. It was not a ghost of human man, nor was it a creature of the Old Powers of Earth, and yet it seemed it might have some link with these. In the Matter of the Dragons, which Ged read very closely, there was a tale of an ancient Dragonlord who had come under the sway of one of the Old Powers, a speaking stone that lay in a far northern land. "At the Stone's command," said the book, "he did speak to raise up a dead spirit out of the realm of the dead, but his wizardry being bent awry by the Stone's will there came with the dead spirit also a thing not summoned, which did devour him out from within and in his shape walked, destroying men." But the book did not say what the thing was, nor did it tell the end of the tale. And the Masters did not know where such a shadow might come from: from unlife, the Archmage had said; from the wrong side of the world, said the Master Changer; and the Master Summoner said, "I do not know." The Summoner had come often to site with Ged in his illness. He was grim and grave as ever, but Ged knew now his compassion, and loved him well. "I do not know. I know of the thing only this: that only a great power could have summoned up such a thing, and perhaps only one power--only one voice--your voice. But what in turn that means, I do not know. You will find out. You must find out, or die, and worse than die..." He spoke softly and his eyes were somber as he looked at Ged. "You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. And the truth is that as a man's real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do..."