The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman

Way back when I started this blog, I wrote a review about the second book in Grossman’s Magician trilogy. It was one of those stories that ripped out my heart, mutilated it, then tried to shove it back into my chest in only a rough approximation of where it had originally been. It was that good (or bad, depending on how you want to look at it). Either way, it was one of those books I can’t bring myself to reread because it was too painful the first time, even though I often find myself thinking about it and recalling specific lines with a sort of perverse heartbreaking pleasure.

I was fortunate enough to discover the first two books in the trilogy through John Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” and of course read them back to back. I was surprised to find that the second was my favorite, since in general I find the middle book of a trilogy to be, at best, a placeholder, and at worst, a dull repetition of the first book.

I had two years to dwell on that second volume though, since Grossman didn’t publish his conclusion, The Magician’s Land, until early fall of this year. I thought I would tear right into my pre-ordered copy when it arrived in September, but I found myself putting it off again and again, strangely hesitant to reenter the world he had so lovingly created. I don’t know why I hesitated, but some part of me wasn’t ready. The end of the second book was just…well, I can’t quite explain it, but it stuck with me so deeply that it was nearly impossible to move into the end of the story. Let’s just say that I still get choked up when I think about that book, and reading the third one almost felt like a betrayal of what had come before.

I finally did it though. Christmas break turned out to be a good opportunity, especially given that the third book turned out to be a lot less devastating than the first two (not exactly holiday heart-warmers, I promise you that). I ended up reading it during breaks from family time and in the various airports we had to travel through, and I wonder if that stuttered timeline influenced my perception of the book. Grossman still writes a hell of a compelling story, it didn’t win me over nearly the way the first two did.

The biggest challenge seemed to be that the author himself was having a hard time saying goodbye to his world. It’s something I completely understand, and it actually makes me like Grossman even more than I did before, but it didn’t all come together for quite as powerful a conclusion as aI was expecting. Things were a little too easy for characters he had made suffer in the other books, and while I’m all for them catching a few breaks after everything they’d experienced, I wanted a little more of that pain he writes so beautifully.

I wonder what the experience would have been like if I’d been able to read all three of these volumes back to back. Hopefully, some of you will do it and let me know if I’m completely off-base with my interpretation of the final installment. Grossman is certainly a major talent, and his books are well-worth the emotional investment. Part of my problem is that I can’t tell if I set myself up with unrealistic expectations, or if he really did go a little too easy on his “children” this time around. The plot certainly filled in a lot of fascinating holes left in the first two books, and I enjoyed the story very much – I just did’t have that shot to to the heart reaction I was hoping for.

*As a side note, I do want to mention that these books contain material that may not be suitable for everyone. The second book, in particular, has a triggering scene so violent I still find it disturbing years later. The series is not, in general, overly violent or sexual in nature but I wouldn’t want to recommend these across the board without issuing this as a consideration.


For more about Lev Grossman, head over here.

9 thoughts on “The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman

  1. since the first two were books that you told me NOT to read because of my personality type, I am guessing that I am now free to explore. Looking forward to it.

    1. If that means you’re going to read the first two, I still say they’re not up your alley, and the third won’t do much if you haven’t read them. Normally I would say go for it, but I really think in this case, you’ll be happier reading something else. Have I ever steered you wrong?!

  2. I am so glad you blogged about this, as I have been wondering if he would come out with a third book for the series. I was so mad at the end of the first book, that I didn’t want to read the second one. When I did, like you, I ended up loving it even more than the first. I feel like I should read the first two again before I read the third. I just need to get through the fifth book of The Game of Thrones series first.

    1. I still have the fifth book on my shelf too! I read the first four so many years ago that I feel like I need a serious refresher, which I don’t have time for, and yet I want to read the fifth one! So frustrating! I’m really curious to hear what you think about the last book in this trilogy. It was a pretty quick read, so if you can squeeze it in, I think you’ll enjoy it!

  3. I didn’t read them back to back, but close–I read book one and two a few months before the third came out. But I liked the third best, I think. The character development made me finally like them a bit more than I did previously.

    1. The characters are pretty unlikable in many ways, especially in the first two, which I think is why I was surprised I liked the books as much as I did. Somehow, their flaws made the painful journey more…appropriate, maybe? I don’t know. But it also made it hard for me to reconcile with the quick wrap up in the third book. I sort of wish now that I had just read them all at once so I could know what that experience was like!

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