Well, I reviewed the first two books in the series. I might as well finish the damn thing up. (Oh God that felt excruciating to say.) Fair warning, reviews, as always, contain SPOILERS. Particularly this review, as I feel I can’t adequately explain my feelings on the book without exploring how it ends.
The Magician’s Land is the third book in the Magicians trilogy, written by Lev Grossman.
I don’t really know what to say about the third book. The problem with The Magicians Land is that Grossman doesn’t do anything new in this one. Of the three books in the Magicians trilogy I find The Magician’s Land least satisfying. Probably, because it does everything it’s supposed to, but unlike the previous two books, it goes like you’d expect it to: the hero gets the happy ending and everybody gets what they want. Unfortunately, unlike the rest of the series, which seem to place an emphasis on the fact that you don’t always get what you want and that the hero doesn’t win the day, this closing chapter tries to say that everybody does.
As always, I will start out with the things that I enjoyed. The opening act is amazing. The cold open grips the reader, pulling them in. Quinten Coldwater—our erstwhile hero—enters a bookstore and proceeds to try out for some shady freelance magician black ops. That’s a pretty gripping cold open, especially for a book series that centers on magical worlds of kings and queens.
From there, Grossman delves into the history of the Chatwins and Fillory. We meet, of course, the descendant of the Chatwins in the form of Plum—our newest female magician protagonist (Grossman seems intent on introducing at least one of these plucky girls in every book, though I’m not quite sure why. He did it with Poppy in The Magician King and, to some extent, Julia in The Magicians), Quiten’s heist partner and a former, if slightly expelled, student of Brakesbill, and we visit the house that the author of the fictional Fillory series once lived in. And then we have a gigantic world ending battle in which case Fillory is destroyed and remade as Quinten temporarily gains the power of a god.
It’s true, technically speaking, The Magicians Land isn’t any worse than the previous two books, it just doesn’t live up to the expectation that Grossman built by playing with said expectations. The thing that drives me nuts, despite loving the ending, is that everyone gets their happy ending. That’s such a huge departure from the rest of the series.
There are definitely some very cool elements that present themselves. For instance the sword that Quinten pulls out in the very first book—demonstrating his talent—makes a reappearance as a sword that can kill a god, which is exciting, because you see the full potential that as a reader we’ve always wanted/expected him to possess. Plus, even attempting to build a world from scratch is the kind of free roaming exuberance that magic is made from.
As always, Grossman toys with tropes and clichés of fantasy, specifically young adult fantasy. In this case, he isn’t nearly as successful.
Grossman makes three main mistakes in his final book.
The first mistake I can’t really fault him for. It seems to be the kind of mistake that most authors and editors will make as a book series gains fame and popularity. This mistake often goes unnoticed because it is an event that most readers willfully ignore or do not complain about. Basically, I’m referring to expanding the back story and history of the world, leading to a story that is not as tightly written. The problem with the way Grossman goes about it in The Magicians Land is that he delivers everything in—essentially—as clunky exposition or divulged in the manner of a massive information dump of a diary written by Rupert Chatwin. The reason I don’t fault Grossman for this error in judgment is that most fans demand back story. They want to know more about the intricacies of the universe they’ve invested themselves in. The writer, when given the opportunity, will usually comply, willingly. The problem is that world building tends to come in the form of info dumps. Info dumps aren’t necessarily a problem, provided the author can craft them in such a manner that are not obvious or that they engage the reader. Then they can be beneficial, even enjoyable. Not so much, in this case. It’s the same concept as giving someone enough rope to hang themselves; you give an author the leeway and they will most surely take it. Which is exactly what Grossman does.
So, if I’ve never published a book, a fair question is how do I know? Because I’ve been reading my entire life. Much of Fillory’s backstory, via Rupert’s diary (among other methods) is essentially an information dump. It’s almost cleverly constructed too, but there isn’t enough “other” to break up the fact that for several chapters, it’s clearly just information and back story being thrown at the reader. I don’t have to have published to recognize this narrative weakness. It’s sitting right out there in the open to be seen.
The second major problem in this book is that instead of following a single narrator—as Grossman does in the first book—or even to narrators alternating—as Grossman does in the second book—here he focuses on several narrators. Grossman’s style doesn’t lend itself to easily identifying who is narrating the book at any given time, a jarring conflict that takes the reader out of the story. In fact, I would go so far to say that the switching of narrators does nothing for the story itself. It comes across more as an attempt to supply an excuse for his information dumps. (Which I guess is the point of a fictional narrative but…)
When you switch narrative perspectives you generally want to give the audience a better idea of information they wouldn’t already have. Grossman instead insists on switching perspectives between characters who are sitting around, in the same room, having the same discussion, the same subject. This is one of things that makes transitions so awkward because suddenly where before you were in Quinten’s head all of a sudden you’re in Janet’s or Plum’s. Nothing about that really lends itself to being useful unless there is a distinction in character voices to identify that there’s been a change or until it’s flat out said. Honestly, it is really awkward to follow, considering in The Magician’s Land, at least four or five different characters narrate the story at any given point.
The one thing I will give the switching of narrators is that Plum does bring an extra dimension to Quinten’s character. He wants to be great and thinks that he is completely inept as a magician but Plum thinks that he is amazing and talented and that he is what she wants to be. That might be the only point of Grossman switching narratives. But, to be fair, it’s a pretty awesome reason to switch narratives once you figure out that’s what happened, because it’s perspective you don’t ever get from any of the other narrators in the magicians series (mainly because everybody else in the magicians series is an adolescent tantrum wrapped up in self-pity that’s always two seconds away from slitting its own wrists, while somehow managing not to).
The final problem I’ve already discussed. Grossman tends to rely on parallels to Narnia and Harry Potter, though by book 3 his Harry Potter narrative is thoroughly gone. The main issue here is that he simply not as good at this narrative trick in this book. And due to his aforementioned happy ending, there aren’t any twists to the plot where the reader can say “okay, that was used in an interesting way.”
Unlike The Magician King, Grossman does actually detail a final battle. That he does only exemplifies exactly why only alluding to the epic battle in book 2 works much better. Grossman presents a perfectly serviceable, step-by-step, paint-by-numbers example of a world being torn down. Despite already exhibiting a capacity and propensity for graphic detail, all his final battle manages to do is read like a R-rated version of the final battle Narnia. I guess one of the major problems of his homage to Narnia is that it feels like book 3 just a redone version of it.
Other issues I have from the first two books still apply. There seems to be no real sense of structure to the magical abilities and their levels in terms of power. Actually, I mean this in the worst possible way; you could actually compare their powers to those of Dragon Ball Z. Everybody gets more powerful, with no particularly good or palatable reason given, just like the last arc of Dragonball Z, the Buu Saga. Everybody just happens to be exactly as powerful as they need to be.
All things considered, The Magician’s Land gives me an ending that I am happy with as a fan but not one that fits the creative tone of the book. This series didn’t ask for the happy ending. It didn’t ask everyone to fall love. Or remake/save a dying world. But it did and that’s actually disappointing. (On the other hand, that’s just my personal preference.)
Overall, I found The Magician’s Land trilogy to be satisfactory. As with most stories, the ending can’t possibly meet the expectations of the set up. That’s just the way stories go. Expectations get set and inevitably someone’s are let down.
in retrospect, I would recommend not reading the third book and just pretending the first two are the only two books in series. Unfortunately, at this point, you can’t really do that. While The Magician’s Land has a handful of great moments, they can’t really justify its existence as it coasts on the strengths of its predecessors.
I keep going back to this concept that I feel I’m being a bit unfair and a bit harsh in my presentation. I enjoyed The Magician’s Land. I thought, as always, that the core strengths of The Magicians Land Triology was the absolute broken nature of the narrators.
So, give this book series a read and form your own opinions. There are certainly worse books. Even those that succeed on a much higher technical level often simultaneously fail on the emotional level that The Magicians Trilogy reaches me on. And that’s gotta count for something right? We read to enjoy. To invest. To explore other worlds. We got a show for magicians.