In 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.”