There is nothing quite like the final book in a series to bring your summer reading to a close. So I was excited when I saw that The Magician’s Land, the final book in Lev Grossman‘s Magicians series, was being released. Even better, via the fine folks at NetGalley, I was able to get my hands on a review copy.
Publisher’s teaser? Publisher’s teaser:
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.
Along with Plum, a brilliant young magician with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. His new life takes him back to old haunts, like Antarctica and the Neitherlands, and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers buried secrets and hidden evils and ultimately the key to a sorcerous masterwork, a spell that could create a magical utopia. But all roads lead back to Fillory, where Quentin must face his fears and put things right or die trying.
This book brought up for me the age-old question of whether or not to reread the books in a series before reading the conclusion.
This is not an easy decision because you only have so much time and there are always a long list of books you want to read. Going back and rereading a couple of books can feel like a sacrifice. But in this case, I think it would have helped me enjoy Magician’s Land a great deal more.
Instead I was furtively trying to remember aspects of the back story, trying to keep various characters straight, and trying to put this third book in perspective with the series as a whole all while I was reading it for the first time.
That said, I enjoyed returning to the series and exploring this alternate world where magic exists as does the magical world of Fillory. Grossman has an interesting way of using language that is very current and colloquial (with tongue-in-cheek references Harry Potter, Narnia, etc.) even as he builds a fantasy world with gods and demigods.
Upon finishing the book I offered this at Goodreads:
On first reading this felt very much like a book that can only be understood as part of a larger series; with an exploration of characters arcs and a bringing together of various threads. Not sure how it all fits together quite yet. Need to ponder a bit.
Fans of the series, however, are sure to enjoy this final volume.
So I pondered … and came up with very little to add.
The part about only being understood as part of the series seems pretty obvious but you never know, someone might want to start the series with the last book because it is new. I wouldn’t recommend that.
I’m still not sure how it all fits together, however, so I have decided to go back and reread the first two books.
In the meantime, I did enjoy the central story of how Quentin deals with being kicked out of Fillory and how his story and the magical land’s destiny end up intersecting again. The mystery/adventure which powers this part of the story was well done. It brought in Plum and included a reconnection with Alice and provided the action as Quentin seeks to understand himself and his place in the world better.
I also enjoyed learning more about the “real” story behind the Chatwin’s visits to Fillory and getting a better sense of how Fillory “works.”
And the ending does have an elegance to it; and offers a satisfying closure which can often be lacking in the concluding book of a series.
The hardest part to connect with, however, was those sections featuring characters like Janet, Elliott and Julia which, like me, you might have forgotten about in the years since you last read about them. I am sure I missed much of the humor and references to these characters.
I also felt like the distraction of trying to remember things from the first two books made it harder to focus on some of the big picture themes (Fillory versus Narnia and the related philosophies for example). I think a reread would help. When I am done I will report back.
All in all, I have to agree with Publisher’s Weekly:
Though the tone is occasionally too ironic, and Quentin’s victories overly easy—such as a reconciliation with a key character from the first novel—this novel serves as an elegantly written third act to Quentin’s bildungsroman, in which he at last learns responsibility and to not simply put childish things aside but understand them—and himself—anew. Fans of the trilogy will be pleased at how neatly it all resolves.
So if you are a fan of the series and haven’t yet read The Magician’s Land, I recommend rereading the first two books before tackling the last. Unless, you just have a better memory than I do, in which case dive in and enjoy the satisfying conclusion.