Review: The Magician’s Land

Yay, I finished another trilogy! I’ve recently finished reading Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land, the third book in his Magicians trilogy. I’ve been looking forward to delving into so many series this year, and I’ve been in the middle of several at once, so not only does it feel pretty darn rewarding to cross one off the list, but I’m already getting excited about which series I’m going to be starting next. Before I get ahead of myself though, let’s talk about The Magician’s Land. (P. S. If you haven’t read the first two books yet, you’ll probably want to check those out before you read any further. You can follow these links for my reviews of books one and two, The Magicians, and The Magician King.)

About the book: Quentin had everything, or almost everything, but now he explores what he’s got left after losing everything at the end of book two. Surprisingly, it’s something he lost even longer ago that’s been stuck on his mind–his girlfriend, Alice. With time on his hands and his access to Fillory blocked, Quentin can finally dedicate himself to finding Alice and putting things back to rights. Except he has no idea if it’s even possible to return a niffin to humanity, and no idea what might remain of Alice after seven years in niffin form if he can manage the impossible. He needs research. He needs resources. Maybe he even needs some help. On his search for those, his goals intersect with his friends’ goals, who are on yet another quest to save Fillory. Only this time, maybe it can’t be saved. Quentin and High King Elliot are both digging back into the Chatwins’ past for answers; the Physical Kids’ paths are not done crossing yet. None of them, however, have ever been so uncertain about where they’ll all end up.

“Doing magic was like finally finding the words you’d been groping for your whole life. You’d always known what you wanted to say, it was on the tip of your tongue, you almost had it, you knew it a moment ago but somehow forgot it–and then there it was. Casting the spell was like finally finding the words: there, that’s what I meant, that’s what I’ve been trying to say all along.”

One thing I particularly love about this book is the way it plays with words. All of the books in this series do that, but in this one especially I noted lots of cool words and phrases that seem at once obvious and unexpected. For example, “a dot in the shark” leaves just the same impression as its more common idiom counterpart–a shot in the dark. Also, the religious folk who believe in the ram gods Ember and Umber above all other possible gods in the multiverse call themselves the “Ramsians.” And the references–don’t even get me started on the great references to other magical worlds: Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Lorax… the list goes on. This book is a mishmash of everything fantastical and weird, and it’s a perfect combination. Lev Grossman has found the magic in novel writing, to say exactly what he meant all along.

It’s also commendable that Grossman manages to endow the same level of magical intrigue onto the mundane world; the magicians operating there see things that we don’t believe are part of the real world, and yet can’t quite refute–like something large and dagnerous lurking at the bottom of the ocean. Like dragons that hibernate in riverbeds. Who can say, really? Who can guarantee that non of the oddities in the weather or politics of our world are not side effects of magicians letting their craft get a little out of hand? It’s a whole world of possibilities out there, and especially in these pages.

But there are also times when this book goes darker than any of the books before it. Quentin’s happiness has always been tentative at best, and easily thwarted, but with so much changing–not only for him, but for everyone–there are some gruesome elements. Alice, for one, has spent seven years as a magical monster; there’s a lot of confused and difficult-to-access anger wrapped up in her character alone, and that doesn’t count Quentin’s despairing over whether or not he can save her and what he’ll find if he does. Nearing/entering their thirties now, the whole group has finally grown up and chosen their paths, and they’re finding that their futures won’t all be as connected as their pasts have been. Especially after the hard ending of book two, there’s a distinct vein of sadness and letting go that runs through this book, for all of the characters involved.

“Hate isn’t like love, it doesn’t end. It goes on forever. You can never get to the bottom of it. And it’s so pure, so unconditional! Do you know what I see when I look at you? I see dull, stupid ugly creatures full of emotional garbage. Your feelings are corrupt and contaminated, and half the time you don’t even know what you’re feeling. You’re too stupid and too numb. You love and you hate and you grieve and you don’t even feel it.”

The best part of all, of course, are the characters. These are characters that feel real–the best kind. They are not “good” or “evil.” They are all annoying sometimes, they make mistakes, they are wrong, they overstep their bounds, and sometimes they’re right and they save the world. No matter where they stand, though, they are always readable. Even when the reader might have reason to hate them, it’s impossible to resist finding out what will they will do next. Their personalities remain consistent throughout the trilogy, and yet each of the main characters is transformed from the start of the first novel to the end of this last one. It was a journey I felt that I learned from, as well, though there is so very little in these books that coincides with my real life.

“It was funny how just when you thought you knew yourself through and through, you stumbled on a new kind of strength, a fresh reserve of power inside you that you never knew you had, and all at once you found yourself burning a little brighter and hotter than you ever had before.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. While I think the second book in this series will end up on my favorite books of the year list, this third one reminded me more of volume one, with a lot of potential and a lot of great elements but just enough lack of cohesion in the tension to make it feel like it’s missing something. I really loved this whole trilogy. I can’t wait to watch the rest of the TV show as the episodes are aired. I’ll miss these wacky, messed-up magicians. But I don’t see myself rereading the series, not for a good long time, at least. Not until the plot has more or less faded from memory, because not knowing where it’s going next is the exciting part of these books. I would probably read something new of Lev Grossman’s, though, if he publishes another book. I know he also has The Codex out, but that doesn’t sound quite like what I’m interested in, so I’ll wait and see.

Further recommendations:

  • If you love the magical world of Fillory (and just the magical aspects of the real world as presented in the Magicians trilogy) you should check out the other magical worlds referenced within the narration. I have not yet read Tolkien myself, but I intend to start soon. I can recommend the Harry Potter series with full confidence, though, first book: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. If you like books like the Magicians trilogy and you haven’t yet read Harry Potter or Tolkien, I mean what are you (we, in the case of the Lord of the Rings) waiting for?
  • I can also recommend, if you enjoy fantasy worlds full of magic and morally gray characters, A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. This series is full of political intrigue on top of the fantasy elements, and generally the characters in Martin’s books take things a lot more seriously than the lackidasical Physical Kids, but it’s a similar sort of fun ride through magical lands.
  • What’s next: I’m currently reading the YA (somewhat) historical fiction novel My Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. I wanted to be reading ACOWAR now, but my copy has not quite arrived yet. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get to that one soon, and in the meantime I’m looking for some good laughs in this book about a girl who was queen for nine days in a land where some of the people transform into animals.

    What are you reading in this glorious shift of seasons?


    The Literary Elephant

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