Friday, October 3, 2014

Review: The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

Cover art for The Magician's Land, featuring a multitude of tiny trees within an otherwise barren, snowy landscape. The trees become shrouded in mist as they move further from the viewer. They're the same sort as appeared on the cover for The Magicians.
Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

As is so often the case with the books I most love, THE MAGICIAN'S LAND demands two reviews.

The Short, Gushy, Ungrammatical Version:

OMG BEST BOOK OF 2014 RIGHT HERE there's no point in beating around the bush it is THE BEST I loved it SO MUCH it was EVERYTHING I COULD EVER POSSIBLY HAVE WANTED I mean there's a magical heist and FUCKING ASMODEUS and also FILLORY and OMG WE GET ELIOT'S POV and ALSO JANET's and I AM INCAPABLE OF THINKING ABOUT THIS BOOK IN ANYTHING OTHER THAN CAPSLOCK BUT I'LL TRY STARTING now also there are all these great magical workings that tie into the first two books thematically and we see Quention becoming more truly himself and OMG I LOVE CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT SO MUCH sorry those caps just slipped out and the sheer amount of power in Lev Grossman's prose you guys omg I kept giggling and gasping and swearing at the book because when I really love things I swear at them and also I kept my hand clamped over my mouth a lot which is what I do when I'm seriously worried about fictional characters and I kind of don't even want to talk about this book because it was so perfect but I also want to say everything about it everythingeverythingeverything because IT WAS SO PERFECT if you loved the first two books you need to read it right away why haven't you done that yet get on that right now please and thanks.

The Somewhat Sensical Version:

THE MAGICIAN'S LAND is the final volume of the Magicians Trilogy, which began with THE MAGICIANS and THE MAGICIAN KING. Read those first, please. Hell, you might want to read them before you go any further with this review, which can't help but contain some implied spoilers for the end of THE MAGICIAN KING.

THE MAGICIAN'S LAND picks up about six months after the end of TMK. Quentin's doing a piss-poor job of dealing with his new situation, so when a mysterious talking bird approaches him with a dodgy proposition, he figures adopting a (temporary) life of crime is better, or at least more lucrative, than doing nothing. The world of magical thievery has more in common with Fillory than it appears to, though, and Quentin is soon forced to confront his royal past as he fights to control a new form of magic and regain one he has long thought lost to him.

THE MAGICIAN'S LAND is my best book of 2014. From the first chapter on, I knew I was reading something set to blow my mind--and unlike the last book that gave me this feeling (BOY, SNOW, BIRD, which I will never, ever be over), THE MAGICIAN'S LAND lives up to its initial promise.

And then some.

I'm somewhat incoherent about it all, as you may have gathered from the short, gushy, ungrammatical review above, so let's tackle the subject via subheadings that highlight my three most favouritest things about THE MAGICIAN'S LAND, and the series as a whole:

Favouritest Thing #1: Fillory is relevant.

Quentin has loved Fillory since he was a small child, and he continues to love it throughout everything that happens to him--but the nature of that love changes as he changes. Fillory is an important part of his life, but it needn't be the centre of his life. As things progress, he comes to recognize his bond with the place as more of a lasting, influential friendship than a chain binding them together for all eternity.

To my mind, the series is very much about how Quentin learns to build a bridge between Fillory and his everyday world; to acknowledge that life can be both magical and mundane, and that neither has to cancel out the other. He can move past Fillory without losing an essential part of himself and without ceasing to love the place. He never abandons it, and in turn, it never abandons him, even when things look pretty damned dark.

And Fillory isn't just important to Quentin; it's at the crux of the entire story. Fillorian magic continually bleeds through into the regular world, literally and figuratively. Sometimes its influence is dire indeed, as we see with the Chatwins, but in other cases it can heal wounded souls, like it does with Eliot. Its relevance depends largely on what the individual brings to the table and how they choose to wield the magic with which it endows them.

I love it to death.

Favouritest Thing #2: Character Development.

The Quentin we meet in THE MAGICIANS is a brat. He's not a terrible person or an uncaring one, but he's so steeped in bullshit that he often struggles to move beyond himself and recognize other people as people. By THE MAGICIAN'S LAND, most of that bullshit has been stripped away. He's a version of himself who's seen a lot, lived through a great deal, and learned from his mistakes. He doesn't always learn quickly, because people don't, but every step of his journey brings him a little closer to getting it. And once he gets it, sparks fly and magic happens in all the best ways.

Damn, y'all. I sort of want to tell you everything he goes through right now, including a blow-by-blow of how he reacts to it all and why Grossman is so brilliant for depicting Quentin the way he does, but I think you'll love it more if you discover it for yourself.

I want you to discover it for yourself. I want you to have things as nice as this.

Favouritest Thing #3: Hope

These books are often cynical, but they're never hopeless. They're about looking at and acknowledging the differences between one's expectations and reality, but they're never, ever, ever about extinguishing magic. They're never about abandoning all hope. Quentin does, on occasion, give in to despair and back away from the promise of a better life, but in every single case he is wrong to do so. There's always a reason to keep the faith. There's always a reason to fight to keep magic in your life, and to keep moving forward.

Sometimes, though, you realize you don't want to move straight forward. You'd rather try a new path that's popped up off to the side. That's perfectly all right. You can change. Your goals can change. It's all good, and it's all worth fighting for.

I've written before of my deep distaste for Death of Magic stories. There's a strong sense in fantastical fiction, particularly fantastical fiction for children, that you'll eventually reach a point where you need to leave magic behind. You have to accept that it's holding you back, and that you should embrace the real world's messiness and difficulty so you can become a Real Adult.

Quentin's story actively fights against this notion. THE MAGICIAN'S LAND is an argument for embracing magic; for accepting that magic, too, can be difficult and messy and painful and adult. You can grow up without abandoning all your dreams and desires. You simply have to accept that they might change as you yourself change, and that you may need to approach them from a different angle.

Which is a fancy way of saying I read THE MAGICIAN'S LAND as a great big "fuck you" to the idea that we can't keep magic past a certain point in our lives. I approve of this message.

One Final Subheading

Oh, friends. I'm all over the place. This always happens with the books I really fucking love.

I recognize the above points are fairly general, with a strong focus on the series as a whole rather than this particular book. That's partly because (good) series endings do sum everything up and illuminate themes that carry through multiple books, but it's also because I loved THE MAGICIAN'S LAND so much that I want to burst into tears whenever I so much as think of it as a separate entity.

It's perfect.

I want to tell you the entire plot, and I want to let you discover it for yourself so you can take your own emotional journey through its complicated, frightening landscape.

I want you, too, to see the ending coming a mile off, yet to still be flabbergasted by how adroitly Grossman handles it.

I want you to gasp and sob and laugh and press your hand tight over your mouth because you're so worried.

I want you to recognize the parallels between Fillory and Narnia, and I want you to consider how your relationship with the most treasured magic land of your childhood mirrors Quentin's, and I want you to come to any number of realizations about the role magic plays in your own life.

I want to tell you everything about this book, and I want to say nothing at all because you need to experience it for yourself.

Thank you, Mr. Grossman. This was marvellous. I'll treasure it for years to come.

Links

While I always advocate your local library as the absolute best source for books, I recognize this may not be an option for everyone where every book is concerned. If you're in search of another way to read THE MAGICIAN'S LAND, you can try:

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4 comments:

  1. Okay okay, I will try it. For some reason, when I checked this out of the library, I found myself entirely uninterested in actually reading it. But okay, I will go back and try again. I really liked The Magician King but was unthrilled with its gender politics (or also the gender politics in the foregoing book), but maybe I'm being oversensitive.

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    1. It's possible I'm being undersensitive.

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  2. I just wrote a paragraph in response to your review. It seems to have disappeared. sigh. I will just sum it up and I flipping LOVE this book too. I went back to read the first one. I hadn't remembered everything and what can I say? Grossman delivered big time.

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    1. I'm really glad I reread the first two before I dove into this one. I'd forgotten a lot, too, and it made the experience so much richer.

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