There are some book series where you can join the narrative part-way through, but Lev Grossman’s Magician trilogy isn’t one of them. If you’ve not already journeyed to Fillory, a childhood land of mythical creatures which bears an uncanny resemblance to Narnia, then don’t start here.
Go back to the first book, The Magicians, and begin in the proper place otherwise much of what happens in this final part will be utterly mystifying. Instead of being delightfully reunited with old friends and foes, you’ll be baffled by the complex tangle of characters and realities with their ironic echoes of boy wizards and Hogwarts, secret gardens and witches in the wardrobe. In this three-book series the author has skilfully blended aspects from each and added more than a dash of his own cynical wit. The result is post-Potter, post-innocence; a sardonic and occasionally bitter journey through the looking glass. It has its moments of sheer indulgent childish delight, but it’s also as grim as any old-fashioned fairy tale…
TML struggled to live up to the first two episodes for me; which still means it’s flat-out fabulous by the standards of most modern fantasy. Grossman brings originality and devious plotting to genre tropes and scatters sacred cows (or rams…) willy-nilly. However, in trying to satisfactorily wrap up all of Fillory’s plotlines he ends up with a book that feels more like a roll call at times. It sparkles less than the first book in the trilogy, has none of the emotional wrench of the magnificently brutal middle book. It’s normally the intermediate novel of a trilogy which suffers but this time it’s the final episode which feels oddly lacklustre for a sweeping grand resolution which has just about every mythical beast and pivotal life-point hurled into its cataclysmic mix. With the previous books you always got the impression that some parts of the storytelling were delivered tongue-in-cheek, in-jokes verging on satire. This one seems to take itself extremely seriously.
There are some high points, mind; the secret origin of Fillory for one. A return (albeit a short one) to the high jinks at Brakebills. But these are subsumed by the vortex, a filmic affair which tries to challenge the orc battles of the Ring movies in its epic grandeur and underpinning pointlessness.
In the end, the main characters’ stories are wrapped up and (mostly) resolved. But I found this book to be the least fulfilling of the three. And although some threads are left dangling, I don’t know that I’d want to undertake another adventure with the magicians. The lustre has worn thin, maybe. Certainly the first two books delivered a much more satisfying experience. Perhaps, like all children who visit Fillory, I’ve just grown up a bit too much to go back again…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman is available as an ebook or paperback