The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

The Magician's LandIn every a reader’s lifetime there will be a handful of books that are so hated by him that the mere remembrance of it resurfaces all those strong feelings. The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman wasn’t one of them, but the earlier book in the Magicians trilogy, The Magician King, certainly was.

You can imagine then the apprehension in my mind as I started reading Grossman’s conclusion to the story of Quentin Coldwater and the world of Fillory. Truthfully, I approached this book not because I expected to enjoy the final ride of these characters and world I had come to know, but because I wanted to feel vindicated that my hatred for the previous book was warranted and I could let it live inside of me in peace.

That was the mindset I approached the book with, but it certainly wasn’t the one that I came out with after a day of nearly uninterrupted reading. For you see, I ended up loving The Magician’s Land.

As the conclusion of the Magicians trilogy, The Magician’s Land picks up some time after the final events of the previous book, with Quentin having been banished from the world of Fillory by the ram-god Ember and now having to continue his life without being able to visit the kingdom he grew up loving and once ruled as a king. Approaching 30, Quentin takes up teaching at Brakebills, where he early on finally uncovers what his discipline – a magical especialty unique to each magician not unlike a fingerprint – is. There he meets Plum, a student, whose mischief  expels Quentin from his teaching stint and pulls him back to the world he had just learned to let go of.

This time however we are not dealing with the same Quentin that, as a king in Fillory, rides out into the wilderness looking for an adventure because he has not yet found the panacea of his life’s problems that he thought magic wouldbe, and afterwards Fillory.

Some plot points are contrived and too convenient – such as Quentin coming upon a loose page of a book that flies straight into his hand by chance that fittingly contains a powerful spell that he will need later on, – Grossman is able to create a much more exciting and tight plot in this book than his previous ones. In a way, the plot in The Magician’s Land is more of a continuation of the events of the first book, The Magicians, than it is of the second one, and it is all the better for it.

The prose certainly is much more developed and rich than before, especially compared with the second book, and the juvenile style reminiscent of the leetspeak of the internet that I found so appalling in the second book is toned down and replaced by a more affecting style that, perhaps not intentionally, reflects the maturing that Quentin has experienced since then.

It makes me wonder whether I should go back to the second book and give it one more chance. The Magician Land made me stay up at night to finish just one more chapter, continuously, and at the end it had the powerful effect that left me wanting to hunker down with a copy of each book and read every single one continuously in one long gulp. It had the most amazing epic battle that I have read in recent years, and the most beautiful and poignant moment towards the end that I believe will stay with me for a long time.

While I am not of the opinion that the various neuroses that plague almost all of the characters in the trilogy makes them, by themselves, realistic and, whatever that is, relatable, and while I certainly don’t believe that books should reflect the fatelessness of real life – for that I already have real life thank you very much, – in the The Magician’s Land, and the Magicians trilogy, Lev Grossman has created something that will become part of the conversation around the various tropes and expectations that serve as cornerstones of genre fiction.

In a way, the whole theme of Grossman’s trilogy can be summed up in the following conversation between Plum and Quentin, and with which I end this review of the book:

“What do you think magic is for?”

“I dunno. Don’t answer a question with a question.”

“I used to think about this a lot,” Quentin said. “I mean, it’s not obvious like it is in books. It’s trickier. In books there’s always somebody standing by ready to say hey, the world’s in danger, evil’s on the rise, but if you’re really quick and take the ring and put it in that volcano over there everything will be fine.
“But in real life that guy never turns up. He’s never there. He’s busy handing out advice in the next universe over. In our world no one ever knows what to do, and everyone’s just as clueless and full of crap as everyone else, and you have to figure it all out by yourself. And even after you’ve figured it out and done it, you’ll never know whether you were right or wrong. you’ll never know if you put the right in the right volcano, or if things might have gone better if you hadn’t. There’s no answers in the back of the book.”

★★★★★

 João Eira

What We’re Looking Forward To In August

What We’re Looking Forward To is, as the name indicates, a monthly feature where we talk about what books we’re most excited to check in the coming month. 

From João:

I will be the first to say that I truly dreaded reading Lev Grossman‘s The Magician King and ended the experience by firmly stating that I would not be reading the next installment. Alas, you all know how fickle some resolutions are. Let’s hope Grossman lets go of his juvenile ramblings and detestable characters and delivers on the promises that made me enjoy the first book so much.

The Magician's Land

Quentin Coldwater has lost everything. He has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams that he once ruled. Everything he had fought so hard for, not to mention his closest friends, is sealed away in a land Quentin may never again visit. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him. Meanwhile, the magical barriers that keep Fillory safe are failing, and barbarians from the north have invaded. Eliot and Janet, the rulers of Fillory, embark on a final quest to save their beloved world, only to discover a situation far more complex—and far more dire—than anyone had envisioned.

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A fantasy debut from author Ben Peek, The Godless sounds like the type of book that is right up my alley, with imaginative magic emanating from dead gods and besieging armies. Certainly one of my most anticipated reads for this month.

The GodlessThe Gods are dying. Fifteen thousand years after the end of their war, their bodies can still be found across the world. They kneel in forests, lie beneath mountains, and rest at the bottom of the world’s ocean. For thousands of years, men and women have awoken with strange powers that are derived from their bodies. The city Mireea is built against a huge stone wall that stretches across a vast mountain range, following the massive fallen body of the god, Ger. Ayae, a young cartographer’s apprentice, is attacked and discovers she cannot be harmed by fire. Her new power makes her a target for an army that is marching on Mireea.

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A retelling of the Snow White fairytale from Catherynne M. Valente, the same author who has given us The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Six-Gun Snow White has been nominated for pretty much all the major genre awards and is receiving glowing reviews from everywhere. This will be the first time I read anything written by Valente, but I am certain this won’t be my last.

Six Gun Snow WhiteA plain-spoken, appealing narrator relates the history of her parents—a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. With her mother’s death in childbirth, so begins a heroine’s tale equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have. Filled with fascinating glimpses through the fabled looking glass and a close-up look at hard living in the gritty gun-slinging West, readers will be enchanted by this story at once familiar and entirely new

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I will be honest and say that I have no idea what to expect from Kameron Hurley‘s The Mirror Empire. The concept seems intriguing, the cover art is drop-dead gorgeous, and Hurley herself, whose essay We Have Always Fought is nominated for an Hugo, is a regular recommended read online. Though not a huge fan of grimdark as a framework, I am looking forward to this one.

The Mirror EmpireOn the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself. In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress. Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself. In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.

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From Rita:

When I saw the synopsis of I Kill The Mockingbird I immediately thought that I had to have it. It has everything in a book that I love: a story based in one of my favorite classics (To Kill a Mockingbird), a story about books, it pretends to honor teachers everywhere, and, finally, it is a story that seeks to inspire people to read. I already have it in my Kobo and I’m sure that I will be reading it in the following month. (And look at that cover, isn’t it just asking to be read and loved?)

18465605When Lucy, Elena, and Michael receive their summer reading list, they are excited to see To Kill A Mockingbird included. But not everyone in their class shares the same enthusiasm. So they hatch a plot to get the entire town talking about the well-known Harper Lee classic. They plan controversial ways to get people to read the book, including re-shelving copies of the book in bookstores so that people think they are missing and starting a website committed to “destroying the mockingbird.” Their efforts are successful when all of the hullabaloo starts to direct more people to the book. But soon, their exploits start to spin out of control and they unwittingly start a mini revolution in the name of books.

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Last week, when João and I were at the movies, we overheard a conversation where a little girl was telling her grandmother that when you break a pinky swear promise you will die right on the spot. When I saw this book’s review from The Book Smugglers, I just laughed out loud and decided that I definitely had to read it.

13643064Fifteen-year-old Raim lives in a world where you tie a knot for every promise that you make. Break that promise and you are scarred for life, and cast out into the desert.
Raim has worn a simple knot around his wrist for as long as he can remember. No one knows where it came from, and which promise of his it symbolises, but he barely thinks about it at all—not since becoming the most promising young fighter ever to train for the elite Yun guard. But on the most important day of his life, when he binds his life to his best friend (and future king) Khareh, the string bursts into flames and sears a dark mark into his skin.

Scarred now as an oath-breaker, Raim has two options: run, or be killed.
A gripping YA action-adventure fantasy, the first part of a planned duology.

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I have something to confess: I am one of those awful persons who, more times than I care to admit, often judges a book by its cover. You have to understand, who can resist a cover such as this one? When I first saw it on Tumblr I immediately fell in love with it, and, when I read its description, it was just impossible for me to resist. 

18047651Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam-a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion-a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant
“There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed…”

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office-leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist-an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand-and fear-the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?