Review – The Magician’s Land

WARNING – Slight spoilers for book one and two. Read my thoughts on them before you read this!

Synopsis: Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose, he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic, but he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young undergraduate with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. But all roads lead back to Fillory, and his new life takes him to old haunts, like Antarctica, and to buried secrets and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers the key to a sorcery masterwork, a spell that could create magical utopia, and a new Fillory–but casting it will set in motion a chain of events that will bring Earth and Fillory crashing together. To save them he will have to risk sacrificing everything.

Who would have guessed that after my apathy for the first book and my surprised delight for the second book that I actually missed the Fillory gang after reading the third? (I really did not foresee this).  It was a great conclusion to a series that I derived more enjoyment as I read each subsequent book.

The Magician’s Land definitely jumped to the action on the first page; Quentin became part of a heist immediately and the next few chapters filled in what occurred to him since the second book (which was plenty, but not exactly completely eventful).  There was also a second plotline where Eliot, Janet, and the rest of the Fillory royalty realized that FIllory’s existence came into question due to the an upcoming apocalypse. Both these plots actually made sense from the very beginning and I could see the tenacious connection between them, even though it is not revealed immediately. As usual, these two threads would eventually propel the story along, but I really appreciated each plotline on its own as I became familiar with the various characters to care about what was happening to them.

Speaking of characters, I adored the introduction of Plum. She was a very refreshing character and it was a lovely friendship/mentor-mentee relationship that she shared with Quentin. Her pluckiness and unwillingness to drool all over Quentin definitely gave her bonus points. Instead, Plum had her own demons and heritage to confront. She also had to figure what she wanted to do with her magical skills and talent that she honed at Brakebills.  Sometimes her rationale was hilarious when compared to Quentin and I believed the duo worked well together to complete their mission and helped each other understand what they want from magic if not life itself.

Another surprising character development was Janet; she received little attention in the previous book as she did not participate in the epic quest alongside Quentin, Eliot and Julia, but in this last book she proved multiple times that she was the most competent ruler in Fillory and why she was an integral part of the team.  I adored the backstory of Janet’s rule while the gang was on their quest—it really made Janet a more three-dimensional character while still being a badass-and-slightly-insane person.

But the one person who had really evolved throughout this series was Quentin. I actually ended up really liking Quentin and thought that his growth had been tremendous throughout the three books. He actually stopped thinking about how he was better than other people and accepted that he could be a selfish, awful person. He took action and was responsible for the faults that he created.  He essentially became a protagonist to root for, and I was shocked by my intense attachment by the end of this book, even if he was not my favourite character from the series.

As a book that tried balancing a very action-packed plot, an epic conclusion along with a large cast of characters, there were bound to be a few individuals that did not get featured prominently. I was personally disappointed that Julia was essentially a cameo here since I still believe that she was one of the most interesting characters in this series, and I was also disappointed that Josh and Poppy did not receive nearly as much character development or attention in the last installment.

With the series and many of its magical elements hinging on the fantastical Fillory book series as well as the five Chatwin siblings, I was pleasantly surprised to see how they and the original novels featured heavily in this book. There were at least clear explanations regarding the mythology, how the five siblings ended up in the magical land and what their eventual fates were. By explaining how the FIllory novels originally started and how it became a beloved series for millions around the world, it provided an excellent reason why all the characters were so devoted to Fillory itself, since it seemed awful to me as a reader. It was particularly interesting to contrast the fanatic attitude of Martin Chatwin and the rather blasé attitude of the middle Chatwins with the Quentin/Eliot/Janet/the rest of the gang, because it really highlights that despite all their flaws in the end the Brakebills students were worthy rulers of Fillory.

And that ending—that conclusion! It was a brilliant and happy and satisfying and bittersweet conclusion all at once, because I learned to care for and like these characters even if they were all flawed human beings. I thought everyone deserve their endings because it was a long journey and there were no shortcuts with all the trials and disappointment and heartbreaks, and if the ending was slightly too cheery compared to the rest of the book, well, that is still alright after all the grim moments throughout the series.

I still had some minor quibbles with the book—mostly with Grossman and that he really liked his female characters swear and act really crudely for no justifiable reason. There was an instance where one character actually swore so much that my eyebrows kept raising since I could see no absolute reason why the character is swearing excessively as she never did it before. There were certain moments where people will just throw out sentences like “Shutthefuckup!”, and it was really jarring as it did not go well with the flow of the story. Still, I have made my peace since it does seem to be a Grossman style thing, and I still enjoyed the story enough to preserver through all three books.

Another quirk was that I found this book to be the spiritual sequel of ‘The Magician’, while the ‘The Magician’s King’ seemed like 1.5 book.  This book just dealt with more ramifications from the first book and helped flesh out any problems in the first book, including all the loose ends that occurred when the first book ended rather abruptly. In contrast, while the events of the second book did have an impact on the finale it was not as important. It could also be because the second book was a more ‘self-contained’ adventure/quest story.

This was definitely a series where one should try to read all the books at once to fully appreciate the story; the first book really did not make much sense or seemed cohesive or a strong book on its own, but I was so glad that I persevered on to complete the trilogy. It would be impossible to pass judgement on this series without reading all three books. While ’The Magicians’ is still not my favourite fantasy trilogy, I believe it deserves a special place in my shelf for me reminding that fantasy can be an exciting and fun read.  I definitely anticipate watching the mini-series (even if it is drastically from all the books).

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