by Gregory Maguire
Fourth book in the “Wicked” series.
I reviewed the third book in this series, A Lion Among Men, back in 2009.
First, a conversation:
“Why are you reading this book?” my fiancé asked me, when he saw it sitting on my desk. “Didn’t you hate the rest of the series?”
“Son of a Witch was OK.”
“Yeah, but what about A Lion Among Men?”
I shuddered with the memory of that terrible tome. “Well…maybe it’s like Star Trek movies. The even ones are the good ones?” He gave me a dirty look, so I stuck out my tongue and returned to my reading.
Oz is once again rocked by turmoil. (But then, in the Oz of Gregory Maguire, when is it ever not?) The Emerald City is preparing to begin its long-awaited invasion of Munchkinland, and has already executed the first step: place Lady Glinda under house arrest. Most of her staff is abruptly dismissed; one of the few allowed to remain is Rain, a mysterious, withdrawn child of unknown provenance. Rain captures the attention of General Cherrystone, who amuses himself by teaching her to read; Glinda encourages Rain to spy on the soldiers, and together they piece together the invasion plan. Later, Glinda helps Rain escape by sending her off with the keepers of the Clock of the Time Dragon, a troop now consisting of Rain, Nor, Brrr and Mr. Boss the dwarf. They wander throughout Oz, dodging the troops of both Munchkinland and the Emerald City, until rumors of the return of Dorothy draw them out of hiding and back into the swirling intrigue of politics.
Gregory Maguire can turn a pretty phrase – I’ll give him that. I like settling into his words and letting them build worlds, because he chooses each description with such precision that the reader always knows exactly what he means. Sometimes this leads to extremely bizarre word choices; right now I’m really wishing I had the book in front of me so I could give you some specific examples, but trust me, there are some real doozies in there.
But for all his beautiful prose, this novel’s a bit of a stinker. It’s almost unbearably dreary and plodding. Once Rain joins up with the Clock of the Time Dragon, the narrative drops to a crawl as our travelers wander aimlessly all over Oz. Now, in the original Baum novels nearly every book has several chapters focused on wandering around Oz, but they’re full of quirky people and light-hearted adventures. In Out of Oz, there’s nothing winsome or whimsical to entertain readers on the journey. It’s just a group of sad, bitter people slogging around an equally depressing and dull landscape, occasionally interacting with miserable, broken outcasts of society. Never has such an unlovable and depressing group of personages been assembled as the cast of this novel, and as they snipe and snark and whine at each other I just wanted to slam the book shut. But again, I must ask – would it kill Gregory Maguire to write a happy character? Surely, somewhere in the vast land of Oz, someone who isn’t pure evil must be enjoying themselves?
But one of the reasons I was reading the book was for resolution, so I’m glad to see many of the old characters return. Brrr actually benefits the most from this; I had quite despised him by the end of A Lion Among Men but over the course of this novel he was redeemed.
But then we have Dorothy. Why does she come back to Oz? Don’t know. To be honest, don’t care. Other than providing an impetus to pull Rain, Brrr and Liir back into the heart of Oz, she does nothing to advance the plot. Dorothy’s just hanging around like an awkward dinner guest who won’t leave on her own but folks are too kind to kick out. It honestly feels like the only reason she’s in the story at all was some marketing person insisted on her return.
I liked that the ‘Wicked Years’ eventually tied back into the original Baum stories. By the end of the book, in fact, Maguire revisits much of the events and plots from The Marvelous Land of Oz. Tip and Mombi are major characters, and there are nods to Jack Pumpkinhead and General Jinjur. What I didn’t like was the rather blatant placement of lines from the Oz movie and the Wicked musical. Like this:
“Don't wish,"said Rain, "don't start. Wishing only...”
(This is a line from the musical, spoken by Elphaba if I remember correctly. In the novel, it was jarring and seemed out of place.)
But ultimately, I’m disappointed because Gregory Maguire would not write a satisfactory ending if his life depended on it. If, like me, one of the major reasons you picked up this ‘Final Volume’ was to get some answers to the many questions and subplots left from the first three books, let me warn you now: YOU’RE WASTING YOUR TIME. At the final page, there are just as many unfinished threads as when the book began.
2 out of 5 stars
To read more about Out of Oz, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.