‘The Magician’s Land’ by Lev Grossman
Ah, the end of a truly exceptional series! Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land is the final book in his Magicians Trilogy and, even after two remarkably good books like The Magicians and The Magician King, I was not quite prepared for just how good The Magician’s Land turned out to be. This was the kind of truly good book that leaves you in a state of incredulity. The kind of truly amazing read that makes it impossible to read anything directly after.
Indeed, The Magician’s Land is the kind of book after which I wandered around the house mulling it over for a few days, occasionally surveying other reading options with contempt (nothing could possibly live up!), before being at all able to start reading anything else. And, even then, it had be something so wildly disparate from magic, fiction, and/or Odyssey Years Reading that I ended up in a thick travel memoir about Siberia. I literarily exiled myself.
All the same, it is hard to express what was so great about The Magician’s Land. Much like when I first read The Magicians, I am so bowled over by how enjoyable, how well-plotted, and how imaginative the book is that it is hard to write any kind of coherent review.
That said, I want to give Grossman particular praise for his treatment of Quentin. For those of you following along on my reading journey, you know that Quentin has always been the weakest link in The Magicians books for me. Throughout the series, Quentin, that Peter Pan of angst-filled masculine adolescence, never piqued my interest or sympathy as a protagonist. His whiny attitude to most everything, even when kingship of the magical land of his youthful imaginings is handed to him on a platter, was particularly grating in the second book and I did not look forward to The Magician’s Land in that I assumed more Quentin navel-gazing would be on offer.
(My only comfort during this time was that Janet, an even more unlikeable person whose modus operandi is to be as purposefully bitchy as possible at all times, was not the books’ primary focus.)
Imagine my pleasant surprise when I cracked open The Magician’s Land and discovered that Quentin, now 30 years old, had actually matured. He had actually learned from his past experiences and grown from them. He had perspective. He had depth. And, even if he was still a rather lost soul, he had shed his self-pitying attitude.
This kind of long-game character growth, with each phase from teenage self-absorption to mid-twenties attempts at playing adult to late-twenties/early-thirties acceptance of the hand you’ve been dealt, all portrayed with searing accuracy, is rare and exceptional in literature. More often you get snapshots or you follow a relatively unchanging character throughout his or her life. But Grossman manages to create a remarkably realistic character in Quentin and bestow upon him some much-needed perspective and maturity in this final book. I loved it.
Indeed, I loved the whole book. Yes, it gets mighty cosmic and very High Fantasy towards the end (dragon warning), but somehow it all works. I don’t want to spoil any of it for any readers, so I won’t mention some of the more delightful plot twists (one of which made me actually squeal aloud with excitement). But I will say that The Magician’s Land is an incredible capstone to one of the best series I’ve read.
Grossman’s imagination and his interpretation of magic simply never get old — and, somehow, utterly improbably, he seems to gain creativity and whimsy as he goes along! — and I enjoyed this book without reservation. And I highly recommend you do so, too.
– Plum! I was all ready to dislike Plum as a much younger late-addition to our cast of characters. She seemed a little too like the moppets network TV added to flailing sitcoms in the 70s and 80s in an attempt to raise ratings. But, what a pleasant surprise, Plum was actually pretty great. Apart from being an interesting character, Plum was a nice call-back to the first book and the Physical Kids’ early years while providing valuable contrast to what they’ve all become. She fit in perfectly and didn’t add even the slightest hint of the maudlin. Go Plum!
– The library of the Neitherlands! Um, an entire section devoted to the books people meant to write but never did? I’m in “books about books” heaven.
– The FUTURE! Lev Grossman has described this book as “the almost certainly last” book in The Magicians trilogy. I’m on the fence about whether or not I want Grossman to go all Douglas Adams (and his “increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhikers Trilogy”) or if I want the three books to stand as they are. I love them so much that I can’t help but want more, but I can also appreciate the beauty of a near-perfectly-executed series. Leave well enough alone?
– The TV show! I haven’t even managed to watch the trailer for SyFy’s upcoming TV adaptation of the series and therefore can’t judge, but this will probably end up being one of those things I can’t watch simply because the version in my head is too beloved and too vivid to bear interruption. Anyone else going to give it a go?