Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Magicians Land Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Lev Grossman
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Magicians Book Three
Pages: 401

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(Spoilers for the previous two Magicians books are below).

After finishing The Magician’s Land I found the reading experience reminiscent of when I read Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana. The two stories and writing styles are completely different, but I had similar thoughts about each of these writers while reading their books: here is an author with the ability, the talent, and the story premise to write a truly perfect masterpiece of a novel.  When it’s all said and done though, they fall just short of achieving perfection.

In theory perfection in storytelling could never truly exist, but the point is this is a masterfully written story that just happens to come up a bit short.  Nevertheless I still believe Grossman’s now completed trilogy is one of best fantasy series’ I’ve ever read – it’s certainly going to be in the top 10 (for the time being).

After being kicked out of Fillory by Ember, Quentin Coldwater begins the next chapter of his life as a professor at Brakebills. However, his time there is short-lived and he soon finds himself in a heist for a briefcase with a Brakebills student named Plum and a few other odd ball magicians.

In Fillory the magical barriers are breaking and the land is currently being invaded from the North.  Janet and Eliot set out to save the land only to discover that saving Fillory will be a lot more complicated than they thought.

Where does The Magician’s Land go wrong?

It goes wrong in the final fifty pages.  Until then this book was on the road to perfection.  The heist plot that dominates the first half of the story may have been a bit of stretch, but overall I was entertained, and Grossman kept me in the story. The cut scenes into Fillory were brilliant, and Plum and Quentin’s time at Brakebills – which was originally published as a short story in the Dangerous Women anthology earlier last year – were all well written.

In the book’s second half is where it really starts to fall apart.  The climactic confrontation involving Quentin did not give me the cathartic release that I was expecting.  The development of new characters like Plum, whom for the first half of the novel turned out to be a character with some promise, falls to the wayside, while pointless cameos from characters in the previous book hog precious reading time … cough … Penny …. cough. Unresolved plots from the previous books, like getting vengeance on Reynard, gets treated similarly to how Shaidar Haran was treated at the end of The Wheel of Time. These situations added up by the end, and while they didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, they just let me down with their resolutions.

On to the brilliant – Eliot and Janet.  Eliot and Janet have been the co-stars to the Quentin Coldwater tries to figure out life extravaganza for two books now.  In The Magician’s Land they finally become major narrators, and their narration is so good, you have to wonder why they weren’t getting book time in the previous installments? Early in the story, Fillory is invaded by some Viking inspired barbarians. Eliot prepares to deal with the invaders, which is turned into a great parody of fantasy battles when Grossman inverts traditional fantasy structure by giving all of the powerful magic and creatures to the good guys – Fillory – and giving the invaders – the bad guys – next to nothing but their swords and armor.  Eliot’s disdain for his inferiors creates a style of humor you know you shouldn’t be laughing at but you laugh at it anyways … it’s really similar to how Billy Bob Thorton’s character in Bad Santa treats the fat kid he mooches off of.

Janet’s sociopathic tendencies makes for some hilarious scenes between her and the talking animals and magical people of Fillory. She is also given a sympathetic backstory, that doesn’t necessarily justify her actions, but finally allows readers to understand some of the decisions she’s made.  Janet is the only shining star in the final fifty pages.  She gets to narrate a climactic last battle which resembles a juxtaposition between the South Park Woodland Critters Christmas and the final 30 minutes of Cabin in the Woods. Ridiculous but so, so awesome.

There is no doubt that Lev Grossman hits a high point in the trilogy with his literary talent in The Magician’s Land.  Despite the lack of action in plot early on, he navigates readers through different currents of emotion with his prose which bares the hallmark of a veteran writer.  The coming of age stories, which have shaped all of the characters’ development reaches appropriate destinations.  The only exceptions here may be Julia and Plum. However, I personally felt Julia reached her destination at the end of The Magician King. Plum again suffers from lack of development in the book’s second half.

Stories are often guilty of inaccurately portraying real life, and fantasy is a genre that is a frequent offender.  Yet, Grossman has proved with the Magicians Trilogy that combining reality with fantasy can be written with a devastating realism, one that accurately reflects the human journey.

Score: 9.3

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