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Book Review: 'The Magician's Land' by Lev Grossman closes a trilogy that matures

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"The Magician's Land" (Viking) by Lev Grossman

Quentin Coldwater — a moody, man-child magician — is finally growing up. And just in time to save everything, mostly, that's ever mattered to him.

"The Magician's Land" is the final book in the three-book "Magicians" trilogy, a genre-busting adult fantasy series. The books follow Quentin and an ever-growing cast of magicians, magicians' hangers-on, magical creatures, gods, bookkeepers, talking birds, knights, kings and queens and the like through their school days, their angst, their relationships, their magical quests and across their magical lands. And to outskirts of Newark Liberty International Airport.

All in the name of magic.

The final installment doesn't disappoint, bringing Quentin's saga to a satisfying, deeply felt conclusion. For those who haven't read the first two books, it's best to stop here. Read "The Magicians" and "The Magician King" both for the welcome backfill of information and the sheer pleasure of their adventures. You won't regret it. Everything to follow — the magical buttons, the flying carpets, the talking animals, the confounding and mysterious Chatwin family — will make so much more sense after absorbing the mythos.

Which is not to say "Land" won't stand on its own merits. It presents themes and allusions that have evolved and improved across three books, much like their chief protagonist. Beginning with "The Magicians," author Lev Grossman sought to write something that seemed contradictory: an adult (read: literary) novel about magic. Take some elements of Harry Potter or "The Chronicles of Narnia," to which this book pays deep homage, and mix in the traditional coming-of-age novel. Weave in real elements of loss and mourning and human emotion. With a wag of the wand, Grossman creates whole worlds and a genre more or less to himself.

"Land" begins where "The Magician King" left off: Quentin is in exile, shorn of his magical title and abruptly booted from Fillory by a feckless god. The experience has pushed him back to his alma mater, Brakebills, where he is serving as an adjunct professor until something goes wrong.

That leads him to a dreary hotel in New Jersey. There, a motley crew that includes the intriguing new character Plum, a former student of Quentin's, is plotting a magical heist. The well-rendered set piece that follows — delivered in a breathless, cinematic style — puts the novel in motion and starts a series of events that will bring Quentin into contact with everyone and everything that have ever mattered to him. Fans of the first two books will enjoy the winks and nods to the earlier story, which mostly manage to seem organic and purposeful, not nostalgic. The overall effect is to force Quentin to reckon with who he is and the magician he has become.

Grossman has written a magical novel. But that doesn't mean it's not mature. Throughout this series, and particularly with the final installment, he hits on big themes: There are meditations on loss, on growing up, the nature of friendship and people's ceaseless, and often fruitless, desire to fix and control things. Through Quentin, Grossman offers his own take: that much of growing up is learning what you can fix and accepting what you can't. Having the courage to do the former and the intelligence to absorb the latter defines Quentin's path.



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