Few authors have tackled the folk tale/fairy tale reboots with the finesse of Gregory Maguire in the Wicked Years series. Wicked remains one of the most influential books of my generation, and the rest of the series, while not packing nearly the punch of the first book, nevertheless delivers an adventure that is as much exciting as it is thought-provoking.
My reviews of the individual titles are below.
I first read Wicked years ago, not long after it came out. Then again, recently, after having the pleasure of seeing Wicked at the Apollo Victoria in London.
On my first read, I’d been expecting a fractured fairytale, and was shocked to find this well-fleshed geopolitical tale of characters and peoples who felt more real than the originals they were based on. Maguire’s clever, humorous, and vivid prose captivated me through every page, and I was changed by the time the book ended.
The second time, myself older now, I picked up on even more of the carefully constructed nuance and thematics. Elphaba and Glinda were not your typical heroines, in any way, but you want them both to push through. The treatment of characters like Dorothy are spot-on, if unflattering. Other characters, like Fiyero, Nessarose, Nanny, and so on, added extra dimension to the story without weighing it down.
Maguire’s Oz, above all, is a world I would return to over and over. Like Middle-Earth. Like Narnia, or Hogwarts.
I don’t say this lightly, but Wicked is a true work of art. One of my favorite books of all time.
Son of a Witch
Wicked is an incredibly tough act to follow. With Elphaba gone, I didn’t have high hopes for the other characters to carry the story, namely Liir, whose characterization in Wicked was neither flattering or particularly interesting.
I was surprised to find I enjoyed watching Liir’s growth. While he never quite reaches a full hero’s arc, he most definitely morphs out of dumpy, sullen child of Wicked. And without giving anything away, his relationship with the Birds is one of the best of the series.
Of the four Oz books, I would rate this one 2nd (behind Wicked).
A Lion Among Men
When I saw this book primarily focused on the Cowardly Lion, I wasn’t real amped to read it. Especially after the state we left Liir in, in Son of a Witch. It felt like an unneeded stall in the series, for a character I never much cared about (in either print or screen). Brr’s banter with Yackle is unnecessarily drawn out through the entire book, leaving the story I was more interested in to be resolved much later. And, frankly, Brr’s exploits weren’t terribly interesting, nor did they serve to make him more likable.
In spite of all that, though, something about the book not only kept me reading, but kept me thinking about the book even when I wasn’t reading. Perhaps it was the familiar world, or Maguire’s fantastic writing (some of my favorite around). So, although this is my least favorite of the series, I still enjoyed its placement in the world.
Out of Oz
When I put this book down, I was angry. My gut-reaction complaints: the book was about 1/3 too long, the characters spend the entire book in a state of angst, the ending was… well, I don’t know, what the hell was it?
Within an hour, I was already missing the world. The characters. The language.
My challenges with the book, even with that time, still stand. Unlike Elphaba and Glinda, our new heroes don’t have many redeeming qualities. While Elphaba was often not very personable and had her share of faults, her moral compass was tilted in a way we could relate to, and she dedicated her life to it. Liir, while a better character than earlier in the series, has so little to offer. The rest of the characters alternate between outright moody and sarcastic. The character of Rain, whom I believe was intended to be the next incarnation of Elphaba, falls flat due to being generally unlikeable.
That said, I enjoyed her friendship and eventual relationship with Tip, though I was disappointed where they left it. Love, when true, sees past the barrier they found between them.
I also, as always, enjoyed simply being in Oz, and being involved in her politics, no matter how muddy, and her people, who are as familiar as family.
The ending… so many have commented on this, so I’ll only say that while I can appreciate an ambiguous, or artistic ending (I’m in the minority of folks who loved the end to The Sopranos), it left far more questions than answers, and unless he’s planning a fifth book, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to call it satisfying.
Overall, I would rank this third (behind Wicked and Son of a Witch, ahead of Lion Among Men).
Overall Series Rating: 4.5 Stars