The third, and final, book of the Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman, “The Magician’s Land” is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Released in 2014, and still available only in hardcover, the novel brings the story of Quentin Coldwater to a close. In it Grossman does two things that I haven’t run across very often: he uses genre tropes to write serious literary fiction, and the ending of series is amazingly well written.
When the first book of the trilogy, “The Magicians” came out back in 2009 I was sold a copy of it on the premise of it being “Harry Potter for adults”, but that sold the book (and the series) far short of what it is. The story of Quentin began with him taking an unplanned diversion in life, one moment he was heading to an interview to attend Princeton and the next he was taking an eccentric test to enter a magical college called Brakebills in upstate NY. From there he learns to work magic, discovers that the Narnia’esque fictional world of Fillory is real, he falls in love, has his heart broken, fails, succeeds, and saves the world a few times along the way through the twelve years that the three books spans.
On the surface that sounds like a somewhat typical fantasy series, aside from the protagonist being a bit older than typical at the story start (he’s college age, a bit older than the typical “boy hero”) and rather older than the norm at the story’s end (I challenge you to find many fantasy stories with a thirty-year old as the hero). But it also isn’t really what the story is about. The fantasy tropes and coating hide a very complex, very nuanced tale of self-discovery, of Quentin (and his friends) all trying to find out who they are and where they belong.
As to the books ending, I don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone who hasn’t read the first two books of the series yet. What I can say is that it, like all great literary book endings, feels both like an ending and a beginning. He avoids most of the typical pitfalls of series finales, writing an ending that arrives when it feels like it should. Unrushed, unforced, no unnecessary tidying or tweaking of plot threads, just solidly enthrallingly well-written. Which is a rarity among series finale books of late.
I would recommend this series to anyone who ever read Harry Potter and thought, for even a moment “How does Harry and friends get away with all this without any consequences?” Or who ever read the Narnia books and wondered what happened to Susan after the books ended? Or who just wanted to live in a world a bit more magical than our own.
The highest praise I can give the book is that I it in one sitting, unable to put it down, and have placed the series (The Magicians, The Magician King, The Magician’s Land) upon the shelf in my small library reserved for books that I feel I should re-read regularly to remind myself what good writing is.