The Spokane County Library District (SCLD) continues to provide its patrons with an excellent selection of genre novels at its branches and online for those who enjoy borrowing ebooks from the Digital Downloads collections. One example of the many great books SCLD offers bookworms in the community is “The Magician’s Land: A Novel” by Lev Grossman. The book concludes his critically acclaimed “Magicians Trilogy” and ties up most of the loose ends left in the second volume “The Magician King.”
Grossman’s series is set partly in a world that is supposed to be ours, only there are secretive communities of people with magic powers operating below the radar of modern society. Other portions of the novels take place in Fillory, a fantasy kingdom deliberately patterned after Narnia from the popular series of children’s books by C.S. Lewis. The books explore what it might be like for young adults who aren’t really sure what they want to be when they grow up to be forced to figure that out while they are using their magical talents to defeat the forces of evil.
“The Magician’s Land” throws readers a curve ball by starting in the middle of a heist caper. At the end of the previous book, a war was breaking out between dragons and ancient gods. The protagonist Quentin Coldwater and his friends had discovered that magic wasn’t supposed to work in our world and the gods were trying to fix what they viewed as a mistake. It would be logical to assume that Grossman would start the third book by getting readers up to speed on what was happening with that major subplot. Instead, he introduces a whole new status quo for Quentin and a new set of characters.
Quentin is desperately in need of money, so he shows up at a bookstore where a talking bird is assembling a team to steal a mysterious briefcase from two powerful sorcerers. Everyone on the team has a magical talent that will be necessary for completing the job. Another member of the team is a young woman named Plum that Quentin knows. The two have some bad history between them, but Grossman doesn’t reveal it right away. First, readers get to enjoy a well-plotted tale of a heist that goes poorly when a second set of thieves show up and try to take what Quentin’s team rightfully stole.
The botched heist sets off a series of events that eventually leads to Quentin and his friends trying to save Fillory one more time, but the path there is complicated and requires some flashbacks to explain why Quentin and Plum tried to begin a life of crime. At the same time that these events are taking place in our world, two of Quentin’s friends in Fillory learn that the magical land is dying. They are told by one of the kingdom’s gods that there is no way to avert the impending disaster. They stubbornly try to save their adopted world anyway and that eventually leads to Quentin getting a chance to make amends for things he did in the other books by helping with their quest.
Eventually, the meaning of the book’s title becomes clear. Much of Quentin’s actions in the book are motivated by his obsession with a page from a book he found that explains how to use magic to create a new realm similar to Fillory. Quentin wants to create his own land mostly to prove he can do it. As he and Plum work on their secret project, Quentin is forced to figure out some things about himself that some readers felt he should have sorted out back in the first novel. This pushes parts of the story more in the direction of literary fiction. “The Magician’s Land” isn’t so much a coming of age story as a tale of someone accepting what kind of person he has become in his thirties.
The novel is also a suspenseful thrill ride and one of the more creative fantasy novels that has been written in the past few years. Grossman clearly had a lot of fun coming up with ways to use magic that hadn’t been seen before and playing with genre conventions. His fight scenes are playful and exciting at the same time. Readers will have a lot of fun with sequences such as battles Elliot the high king of Fillory gets into as he tries to quickly end a war and go about the more serious business of saving a world or an ongoing struggle between Quentin and the angry ghost of his ex-girlfriend.
The novel’s story veers off in directions that readers of the series will not expect. As Quentin and the other characters deal with both external threats and their interpersonal relationships, Grossman introduces new concepts and new conflicts that expand upon the worlds he created in the first two novels in fascinating ways. Readers may be left wanting more after encountering ideas such as whales using magic to protect the rest of the world from sea monsters or discovering that seemingly unimpressive magical powers can grant their users godlike abilities to manipulate reality.
The way “The Magician’s Land” ends may not satisfy everyone who has been following the series, but it is hard to imagine a better conclusion. All of the characters are left in a better place and the possibility of more adventures is there if Grossman ever decides to write a fourth book. Fantasy lovers in the greater Spokane area owe it to themselves to check out the novel from SCLD and see for themselves how well Grossman balances action, serious emotional drama and a finely honed sense of whimsy.