Those of you who regularly read my book reviews will know that I often start series in the wrong place – I spotted this offering on the shelf and picked it up without realising that it was the fourth and final book of this series. Having said that, Maguire does provide an outline of the previous three books, maps and family trees to help those of us who have dropped into his world ignorant of the backstory.
Years have gone by and the once peaceful and prosperous Land of Oz is knotted with social unrest. The Wicked Witch has long passed into legend, her boy Lűr and his wife are in exile, and their daughter Rain in hiding. Even Galinda Upland is under house arrest and the Cowardly Lion is on the run from the law. Then there is the matter of Dorothy and the rumours of her return…
I also have to confess to never having read the original Frank Baum version of Oz, either – in fact the only Oz-related story I know is the musical featuring Judy Garland. So the Maguire treatment was something of a shock. This doorstopper (660 pages) definitely lacks the cosiness of The Wizard of Oz musical with complex, mostly unhappy characters who are at best conflicted if not badly damaged by their experiences. While plenty does happen, this epic fantasy is on the literary end of the genre, so the prose is polished including detailed descriptions of landscape and weather that verge on the poetical, with nuanced and sophisticated characterisation.
The book mostly follows Rain’s adventures, initially told through the characters surrounding her and later, when she is more self aware and able to carry the narrative herself, largely through Rain’s viewpoint. However, the viewpoint does swing around a fair bit and if Maguire’s style wasn’t quite so polished, this aspect of the book could have been irritating. As it was, I think he gets away with it – though some sections and characters are better than others. I particularly liked Brrr, the Cowardly Lion and some of the sections featuring Rain, my favourite being Galinda and General Cherrystone’s battle of wits in the early stages of the war.
Dorothy is great fun and probably is nearest to the main character in The Wizard of Oz – I personally would have like to see more of her, as I found Rain’s rather withdrawn character hard to really enjoy. I’m conscious that so far I’ve managed to make this hefty tome sound rather grim and worthy and what makes it enjoyable are the continual touches of humour Maguire incorporates into the action. Even some of the violence and death scenes regularly tip into farce. The main theme running through the book is how power distorts relationships – both magical and political. The emotional cost charted throughout the book is high and as well as the humour, there are also some genuinely poignant moments.
This an engrossing and enjoyable read and if your weakness is for detailed world-building, complex and often unpredictable characters with plenty of action, then hunt down this series. Although, do yourself a favour and start with the first book that put this series on the map – Wicked.