The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman. Viking, 2014.
So I finished the Magicians series and was able to meet Lev Grossman at NerdCon: Stories a few weeks ago. The experience was great, and it actually shed some light on the confusion I felt at the end of the final installment. It wasn’t confusion in the sense that I didn’t understand the story; I just didn’t understand why the story ended so…happy.
But let’s back up. I mentioned in my review of the second book that I was hoping for 3 things to happen in the third book. First off, I was really glad that The Magician’s Land had more Elliot. He is my favorite character, and I felt he needed more “page time.” Check. [Aside: the third book also had more Janet, which was great because we got to know her more as a human being with feelings and not just a callous bitch. She became quite the bad-ass and is surely now a fan favorite.] Secondly, I was also hoping that we would see a true change in Quentin in the third book. And we did! The book actually begins many years after the previous one ended, and Quentin is in his 30s. Right from the start we see that he has grown, and his adventures during book 3 allow him to finally come to terms with who he is as a magician and as a person. I’m really glad that his character rounded out by the end. Check.
My third wish (3 wishes! I did not plan that…) was that the ending would give a sense of achievement without being too happy or cliché. This is where my confusion came in. The previous two books in the series are full of doom and gloom. They are intense and emotional, and teach you that your fantasies are actually just as sucky (if not more) than reality. So I was expecting an ending that didn’t allow for a “happily ever after.” But…like…we got a happily ever after! Alice, the character whose “death” was part of the horrifying spiral of depression, COMES BACK TO LIFE; Fillory almost ceases to exist but is saved by Quentin, who gets to recreate his childhood fantasy land; AND the f-ing Cozy Horse shows up at the end! How much more warm and fuzzy can you get? Literally!
However, the reason I’ve been using the word “confused” rather than “disappointed” to describe my reaction to this is because I didn’t feel cheated. I was just puzzled as to what the author was trying to do by ending the series so happily. Normally I would say that it was a failure on the author’s part to end the series in congruity with the rest of it. But with Lev Grossman, I knew there had to be a reason. He’s such an incredibly intelligent author that I knew there had to be a reason.
At NerdCon I was able to meet Lev Grossman and get my copy of The Magicians signed. While waiting in line to do so, I made a new friend (as one does); we bonded over some good conversation, swapped Twitter handles, and are still keeping in touch. This friend told me that he connected with Quentin because he had gone through some tough times that made life seem kinda worthless. He later told me that he shared this with Lev, and Lev agreed that life is pretty much pointless…yet people still manage to find a way to get through it. He told him that it would be ok. After this conversation, my friend and I agreed that the ending now made more sense to us.
Most of the reviews I’ve read and the opinions I’ve heard pretty much agree that the third book in the series is the best. My favorite is still book 2, because I think it is the most complex and compelling. As much as I love to feel warm and fuzzy inside at the end of a book, I thought this series (considering how much it plays with genre) should not have had quite as happy an end. Then again, it does bring the whole fantasy-as-wish-fulfillment theme full circle in that the reader gets the fulfillment Quentin always wanted from his “story,” but now I’m just getting meta…
Overall a really great, intelligent series. Book 3: 4/5 stars.
Also, while doing some research for this review, I came upon one of Lev Grossman’s blog posts in which he shared annotated passages from all 3 books. It was really exciting to read through his annotations; if you are interested you can find them all here. I highly recommend checking it out if you are a fan of the series.