My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The concluding (is it?) volume in Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy begins rather shakily. While book one was fresh at the time, the seams are now all too apparent: Grossman’s take on ‘modernising’ grand old fantasy is to have a bunch of modern snarky teens who drink, swear, have sex and generally behave badly.
Behind it all sits the wise-ass author, inserting inappropriate remarks and comments about just how ridiculous all this magic crap really is. While expecting us to believe and shed a quiet tear at the sheer wonder of it all. Nudge, wink.
I did not have high hopes for book three, after the tepid second volume, and especially as the story picks up with Quentin back where it all began, in Brakebills. Was Grossman simply going to recycle the whole story again, from the perspective of an older and wiser Quentin?
Yes and no. Bizarrely, book three quickly turns into a madcap heist caper, with Quentin, Plum and a few other misfits recruited by a talking blackbird to retrieve a missing case that once belonged to Rupert Chatwin. The contents of said case are unknown, while it is protected by an unbreakable spell. Thus a regular McGuffin, as in an ordinary SF novel. Only this one has flying furniture in it.
Grossman switches back to Brakebills to slowly reveal the back story of Quentin and Plum as teacher and pupil. We also get a window into events in Fillory, where the ram god (don’t ask) Ember warns Eliot about an impending last war that forespells apocalyptic doom for our beloved Narnia clone, Fillory. So a Magical Object and a Magical Prophecy, and we are all ready to join the Tolkienesque dots.
Note to author: this is one instance where I as reader would have appreciated a brief summary of What Has Gone Before, as it has been quite a while since I read book two, let alone book one.
The unexpected reappearance of a feral, demonised Alice starts off the last third of the novel with a bang (literally). From this point on, Grossman tightens his hold on the reader’s emotions, and begins a very satisfying and resonant arc that brings Quentin’s story full circle. And it really has been Quentin’s story all along, we realise in the end.
The Magician’s Land is really nothing special until that magical point where Grossman lets his imagination and his love for these characters fuse to create something much larger than the sum of its parts.
This is really a great love song to the wonder and innocence of all children who fall through the magic pages of a book, be it Middle Earth or Bas Lag or Barsoom … and how powerful a force that love and wonder can be in shaping the adults we become.