The Short Version: The unrest in Oz has grown and all-out war has broken out between Munchkinland and Loyal Oz. Glinda is under house arrest with a young chambermaid who might in fact be Liir’s daughter – Elphaba’s granddaughter – and the Cowardly Lion is dragging about the Clock of the Time Dragon. The young chambermaid, Rain, sets off with the Lion and the company of the Time Dragon and comes of age in this trying time in Oz. Oh and did I mention: Dorothy’s back?
The Review: So here we are. Come to it at last. The epic conclusion of the most startlingly mundane fantasy epic ever. Where Wicked was an instant masterpiece, Son of a Witch and A Lion Among Men were both… less than that. Significantly, you might say. While I appreciated the extension of the story, neither book felt necessary in any way. Okay, so Elphaba had a son! Whoa! And he was bisexual! Whoa? And meanwhile, the Cowardly Lion has a backstory! That nobody really needed to hear! As much as I think Maguire’s revisionist Oz is a triumph, I wondered why he brought it to such realistic mundanities. I’m fine with Oz having a complex socio-political structure – but this was an attempt to make it all too real… by making it boring. Oz is a place of wonder and magic and so why the hell would you focus on the ways it’s just like our world?
But these were my own gripes and despite them I continued with the series out of sheer desperation. I knew there was an endgame and I hoped, sincerely, that it would come through – especially since the quality of Maguire’s books had declined even outside of the Wicked Years series and I knew this was, in many ways, a bit of a last shot for him to keep me as a reader. Happily, this book ended up being much closer to Wicked than either of the intermediary novels both in content and in quality.
The main complaint that people forget to have about Wicked, perhaps in light of the musical’s streamlining the plot, is that it’s really long. Too long. And too chock full of ideas. This novel suffers in somewhat the same way. It could’ve been shorter, perhaps, had Maguire trimmed a bit of the travel… but it also probably could’ve been two hundred pages longer to fill in some of gaps (especially towards the end of the novel). There’s just too much crammed into not enough space, here. We’ve got several protagonists – to the point that I honestly don’t know if I can name one of them the ‘main’ character, although my impulse is towards Rain. However, the Lion gets a considerable amount of stage time and goes through his own significant level of growth… plus we’re just coming off of ‘his’ novel, so the argument could be made. Liir – a character I didn’t like from the start – is given probably too much time and I felt as though too much effort was expended on the Clock of the Time Dragon for it to just… fall into the sea and be forgotten. It was as though Maguire had run out of ideas for what to do with it – but not after spending SO MUCH TIME talking about it.
That tended to be the way much of the novel went: too much time devoted to something that was then given speedy resolution. Even the major reveals at the end – including one I not only didn’t see coming but one that also took me about five more pages to realize had happened because of a lack of clarity in the writing – felt as though they were sort of hurried along in order to bring the lumbering novel to a close… but then it continued on for another fifty pages or so. The worst part about all of it was that, even after having spent SO MUCH TIME with these characters, I couldn’t really be brought to care about them. The most interesting ones were the ones mostly kept offstage – like Mombey and Glinda and Cherrystone. The smartest bit of the novel came right at the start (just about) with Glinda facing off against Cherrystone in her house straight up to the stunning (and heartwrenching) sequence with the spell “To Call Winter Upon Water”. It was lean, it was funny, it felt like it was a part of something greater while at the same time being incredibly important in its own right. Then, after Rain leaves with the Clock company, the novel begins to sputter again. It is basically a group of people wandering around Oz falling into minor adventures while the actual important action happens elsewhere… and then these minor characters pop in at just the right moments in order to facilitate the Major Dramatic Plot Points. Like the Lion at Dorothy’s trial – another sequence which felt entirely unnecessary, especially since by the end of the novel we still don’t actually know what happened to the Witch. That actually really bugged me – not because it was left unresolved but because it was constantly brought up then left unresolved. It was as though Maguire was rubbing it in the reader’s face – and if you want to tell me that the final short chapter with Glinda near the end of the book is that resolution, I will not call that a proper resolution by any means. That’s a tease of a tease and if that’s meant to be enough, that’s a slap in the face of the reader.
What I did appreciate about this book was the fact that it felt like Oz again. We got to see places like the poppy fields (although I’m unclear as to how, exactly, the Companions of Dorothy would’ve passed through the Sleeve considering it doesn’t cover the Yellow Brick Road in this Oz) and we went back to Kiamo Ko and Shiz. Major secondary characters from Baum’s Oz made their appearances – Mombey and Jinjuria (or Jinjur as she was back then), Tip/Ozma, even a brief reference to Jack Pumpkinhead. There was magic here alongside the socio-political intrigue. I no longer cared that there were dragons, because their scenes were breathtaking (although I still think including dragons in Oz is a cop-out of the imagination). The Grimmerie was back and the final sequence where Mombey is defeated/Ozma returns is a pretty awesome magic moment. It’s too bad it was written in such a way that you don’t really get to experience it. You have to allow yourself to imagine it, instead.
Rating: 4 out of 5. I know it sounds like I didn’t enjoy the book, as I had quite a number of complaints. The thing is, the book felt like the home we can never go back to. It felt like early summers in late middle school. It was fun – which happens to be truly what the series has missed since the first book. Even the unnecessarily martyr-y ending was tolerable because it ended the series on such a beautiful image… and that’s what I’ll remember most about this series. Not the failings but those beautiful images that turned Oz from so much more than a place of fairy tales into a place that could truly exist. Baum’s books, lovely as they are, never transported me the way that these ones did – and so I’m pleased to’ve seen it out on such a note. It was not remotely rewarding enough… but it also didn’t let me down when it counted.