I’m back! It took a few months to recover enough of a sense of what constitutes a “good” or a “bad” book following Grey since pretty much everything in comparison was amazing as long as it didn’t contain a) glorified rape, b) glorified eating disorders, and c) DJs.
But I’m back with another one of the mainstays of my blog, which is Lev Grossman’s fanfic-y Magicians trilogy (recently turned into a not-terrible show by SyFy).
It’s no secret that I’ve been iffy about Grossman’s series in the past, both here and on the Mary Sue, though I will say my reasons for iffyness have changed a bit — particularly following the third and final instalment, The Magician’s Land. My old gripes had a lot to do with the fan service aspect of the books, the way that they felt like some new take on fanfic where it both was fanfic itself, and then used those fanfic elements to examine the whole concept of fanfic. Which is a great premise if you have any prior experience with that subculture, but one that I felt the book ultimately didn’t execute well enough for my liking.
That’s less of an issue in this final book, and it allowed me to zone in on what was really bothering me: Quentin. God he’s awful.
I want to make this a relatively short review, but the things I want to talk about will include spoilers, so if you’ve been dying to read this book and don’t want to have anything ruined for you, then don’t read any further than this:
Quentin is just the fucking worst. I know he’s meant to be a complex and unlikeable character and that part of the point is that nobody hates Quentin more than he hates himself, that he pushes people away and destroys relationships and he knows that, and he’s trying to deal with it (badly). And yet I never get over the feeling that Quentin was meant to still seem relatable or affably self-destructive. In other words, as much as people agree that Quentin is awful, I still felt like the book needs you to like him, or at least accept him.
The trouble with this final book is that it hinges on your desire to see what happens to a whole host of unlikeable characters, and particularly what happens to the most unlikeable of them all (Quentin, obviously). But by about the halfway mark, I realized that not only did I not care, I struggled to remember anything that had happened up to this point in the series because most of it had faded between readings, and the book didn’t do a great job of reminding the reader of who and what and where everyone was. Something something Quentin being cast out of Fillory? Penny’s hands were bitten off and he’s a magic librarian now? Fox rape?
Something something Quentin being cast out of Fillory? Penny’s hands were bitten off and he’s a magic librarian now? Fox rape? Witch clock lady? Alice turned into a magic blue god ghost? There are… other people?
Look: it’s not a terrible book. It’s probably the most polished and structured of the series, and I do think that the end — while annoying, because it ultimately gives Quentin everything he wants while pretending that he’s learned a lesson he clearly hasn’t — is solid… I just didn’t have enough emotional motivation in the series to enjoy it.
If you have enjoyed the series, and you don’t mind Quentin or you do relate to him or you enjoy his unlikability, I imagine you probably will enjoy The Magician’s Land.
But I feel more glad that I’ve finished it for the sake of finishing it than I am glad to have read it at all.