The Magician’s Land, the third and final book of the Magicians Trilogy, was released this past Tuesday August 5th. I want to say I finished the book in two days, but I’m a slow writer, sorry, and it took me a couple of days to write the review. All 3 books by author Lev Grossman have been easy reads and I honestly could have finished the book in half a day if I just focused on reading. I started reading the 1st book, The Magicians, because a review I read online described it as “Harry Potter for adults.” That was enough for me. Harry Potter has been a big part of my childhood and one of my favorite book series. Ever since Harry finished his journey at Hogwarts I’ve been looking for anything to fill the void JK Rowling left in my heart. Reading these books helped, if only a Band-Aid’s worth of healing, but I think that speaks more to what Rowling wrote and when I read them than my opinion on the Magicians Trilogy, a series I would recommend to anyone looking to fill their Hogwarts void.
The main character Quentin Coldwater, despite his horrible name, feels like an accurate and compelling portrayal of a smart student who doesn’t know what to do with his life. Which basically describes the target audience of these books. He’s not the most likeable character, he’s annoying and immature at times, especially earlier on in the series, but that leaves him plenty of room to grow throughout his arc. I associate myself with him because we both obsessed over children fantasy novels for way too long. For him it’s the Chatwin series, a knock off of the Chronicles of Narnia that follow children going on adventures in the magical land of Fillory (Narnia). He stumbles upon the entrance exam for the magical college Brakebills, he passes, and his whole life changes. Unfortunately he doesn’t spend too much time here like the Harry Potter books, maybe about a third to half of the book, but the experience was at least more “realistic” than Harry Potter’s time at school if a bit less exciting. Author Lev Grossman deftly creates a school setting on how college kids would behave if they were given magic. It’s great. Honestly I would have loved if he stretched out Quentin’s time at school, but this book is more of a coming of age fantasy story, not let’s have awesome magical times at school.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the 1st book, probably my favorite of the 3, but he goes from nerdy high school student to having everything he wished for and then some, but he’s still miserable. Apparently having access to magic doesn’t magically fix all your problems. This may be why so many readers dislike Quentin, because how could he really is such a whiner to start off with. Using real life as an example, apparently lottery winners only feel raised levels of happiness for about a year before their levels pretty much go back to how they were before they won. Even with all of their problems fixed, at least financially, they just get new ones to deal with. Getting all that money has ruined a lot of winner’s lives, maybe discovering you can perform magic would have similar results. Who knows, I still buy lottery tickets every now and then, it’s not stopping me. But the reason this resonates so much with me was because I would day dream of my life being so much better if only I had superpowers/magic…any day I would discover I had this hidden talent, and once I had that I could start truly living. Life doesn’t work like that. I was just using my laziness as an excuse. I still do.
Quentin learns that there is no grand adventure after learning magic, there’s no quest, there’s no one to tell you what to do next, you have to find those answers for yourself, and it’s terrifying. Life’s not a book, “what does the hero do with his life when there’s no one to save?” Yeah, this hit home because it summed up exactly how I felt after graduating college. What’s next? I didn’t even have magic to fall back on, only my devilish good looks. I digress, overall this story is complex and spellbinding because the author knows the genre has been done relentlessly before and he trying avoids clichés while bringing up stirring new situations. The pacing of the books have always felt fast, Quentin and his friends finish their entire college career before the halfway point of the 1st book, meanwhile JK Rowling spread out the school years on a per book basis.
I started reading the 1st book not knowing it would be a trilogy, and when the first book ended, I hungrily searched for a sequel. That turned out to be The Magician King. This book splits up the POV chapters between Quentin and his friend Julia, she didn’t go to Brakebills, but still manages to learn magic. It was a solid addition to the series, but the weakest of the three for me. After finishing that just as quickly, I had to wait a year for the final installment, The Magician’s Land. A year wasn’t a long wait at all considering how long George RR Martin takes for his books.
I don’t want to spoil this book either, so I’ll remain as vague as possible. The final installment is the most exciting of the three and checks back with 30-year-old Quentin, seriously super fast pacing considering he started the series at 17. The book introduces new POV character Plum and revisits some old characters glossed over in the second installment. The character development in the final book may be the book’s strongest selling point, and giving some POV chapters to Quentin’s classmates Elliot and Janet really expands on their motivations, especially Janet. She becomes a lot more likable after reading a few of her chapters. I think I was attracted to this book, besides reading the other 2, because of the supernatural element and how the characters struggle with the transition from young adult to adult.
It’s sad really, I built my expectations up for the finale, and it was entertaining and tied up quite a few loose ends, but I still felt unsatisfied. Then again I didn’t like the Harry Potter conclusion either. If I had find a message this book tries to convey, people grow up through experiences, magically related or not, they become better people. It helps to have as many friends who care about you along the way, but honestly being this vague means I can’t really describe it too well without giving anything away. The moral our protagonist learns is to make a place for himself in the world by not being so angry and to embrace magic to enchant the world and himself.
I thought maybe that through his adventures I could discover something about myself I didn’t understand before, but it ends in such a fantastical fantasy way that I may have focused too hard on trying to learn something, from a fiction book!, than enjoying the ride. What I was doing was equivalent to looking up word definitions in a thesaurus, you can do that, but there are much easier ways to find definitions and you end up feeling kind of silly. I was entertained, it made me feel like a teenager again, and it made me want to try new things. The story itself was entertaining and I would recommend reading the books, especially those that liked Harry Potter/ Chronicles of Narnia.
I hate when any book ends, I hate when anything ends, I cried at the end of The Black Cauldron, I was 7. I’m still not sure why I was so upset at the ending other than the simple reason that it ended. I didn’t cry at This is the End, made it through that one fine. It’s like saying goodbye to an old friend forever and all you’re left with are the memories. And now I’m alone with and stuck here living my normal boring life! I guess that just means I need to start living a more interesting life, or at least start reading more books. I’ll end on a quote that I liked from the book, and it helps me feel a little better that I still have no idea what I’m doing with my life.
“In our world no one ever knows what to do, and everyone’s just as clueless and full of crap as everyone else, and you have to figure it all out by yourself. And even after you’ve figured it out and done it, you’ll never know whether you were right or wrong. You’ll never know if you put the ring in the right volcano, or if things might have gone better if you hadn’t.” – Lev Grossman, The Magician’s Land
Moral of the story doesn’t apply to Lord of the Rings, things are better for Frodo, the world, and that volcano with the ring in it. Sorry Gollum, but it’s true. If you read any of the books I’d love to talk about it in more detail. And if you haven’t, read them and get back to me!