Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land is a satisfying and cathartic conclusion to a very smart fantasy series. On the surface, the series is about a group of magically gifted people who discover that the setting of their favorite childhood stories is real. They become high kings and queens of the land, have adventures, and play with magic. One layer down, it’s about a group of very talented people who have serious personality and self-esteem issues who have too much power. One layer below that, as we learn in The Magician’s Land, it’s about a group of very sensitive and intelligent people who’ve had their hearts broken by their parents and have no good models for how to be adults. All of the books center on Quentin Coldwater, more or less, who embodies all of these problems more than any of his friends.
Quentin Coldwater was exiled from Fillory in the previous books and has been searching for a way to return ever since, as well as figure out a way to resurrect his lost girlfriend. In the first book in the series, The Magicians, Quentin irritated me so much that it soured the book for me. But he has grown up a lot since then. As he’s gotten older, he’s learned that happiness is always tempered with imperfection when you’re an adult. You can never recapture what you had and expected as a child. So, Quentin finds work at his old magic school and settles down to, more quietly and cautiously, find a way to reunite with his friends.
A dramatic chase and confrontation lead to Quentin’s expulsion from the school, leaving him with no childhood refuges. To get money to fund his research, he takes a job to steal a mysterious case with some tie to Fillory for two million dollars. While the heist is planned, we are treated to chapters set in Fillory featuring Quentin’s friends. The plot regularly slows down while characters talk about their parental issues and the moments that forced them to leave their innocence behind. Thus, the major theme of this book: coming to terms with the end of childhood, whatever that might mean.
The other major plot involves the death of Fillory. Whatever magic is holding it together is failing. No one has any ideas of how to fix it. Even the land’s gods have gone AWOL. The whole thing works to fuel the plot as well as function as a metaphor for how childhood innocence cannot last; it always has to end. We all have to grow up eventually. That said, it pushes The Magician’s Land even further into melancholic retrospection.
There’s plenty of magic and excitement in The Magician’s Land. Grossman is talented enough to make these rather interesting, so that they don’t completely bog down the plot. Without the magic, though, this book could have been awful given how much psychoanalysis there is. I found the book to be immensely satisfying because the characters pulled through their trauma to confront their challenges. The characters, especially Quentin, have come a long way since their desultory days after graduating from magic school. The Magician’s Land, which began with resignation, frustration, and a certain amount of doom, ends on a brilliant note of hope for the future.