The friend who started me reading this series claims that she refrained from loaning me the third one so that I'd read this series in at least two different years, so it could make it to the top ten each year. She's not wrong. There's really a very good chance of that. The Magicians came in at number two on the top ten, and The Magician King only didn't make the top ten because I wanted to share the wealth around.
I think these books are thoroughly enjoyable if you don't know the Narnia series inside out and backward. At least I presume they are, since all three did very well and spawned a TV series, and I kind of presume most people aren't as obsessively in love with the Chronicles of Narnia as I am. Which is to say, most people know The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and not all the rest. However, if you do know and love the Narnia books, these become all the richer.
I spent time thinking about this, and you can see traces of most of the books somewhere in here. The Magician King was very much Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Neitherlands are a homage to The Magician's Nephew. The Magician's Land is obviously very much The Last Battle, but the fight that Elliot's in at the start of the book strongly reminds me of the single combat in Prince Caspian. What I am trying to say here is not that I know those books well - I obviously do. What I'm saying is that Lev Grossman obviously knows them just as well, and weaves references in beautifully, without ever feeling beholden to or constrained by them.
It's quite the achievement, to make something entirely new while still paying loving reference to some of the source material. Oh, and I also spent some time trying to figure out where The Silver Chair was, but I became convinced that that's in aspects of Julia's journey.
In The Magician's Land, the time of Fillory is coming to an end. King Elliot and Queen Janet (and the other King and Queen) try to find out what's happening and how to stop it. Meanwhile, exiled from Fillory, back in the real world, Quentin is recruited for a magical heist, but ends up in possession of a spell far more powerful than any he's seen before. Will he try to work it? Do you need to ask?
The books continue to be about growing up, but by this time, everyone is pretty much an adult. They're not as labile and tempestuous as they were as teenagers and in their early twenties. They don't necessarily have everything figured out, but they are old enough to be able to see things with more perspective, to realize that maybe they aren't the first people in the world ever to have experienced the things they're experiencing.
That said, this book still knocked me for a loop when Alice was reintroduced. It was beautifully, done, difficult and sad and hopeful. It also seemed particularly fitting that Quentin went to bacon as his secret weapon to remind Alice how good having a body could be. She was pretty much always my favourite character, and her struggle not to be again was strong and powerful.
All the loose ends are tidied up, and the saga of these characters comes to a fitting end. Grossman has a knack for making pieces fit together into a whole, and that happens very satisfactorily here. I wouldn't be surprised to see this book turn up near the end of next year's Dust Cover Dust-Up. I'm sorry to be done the series, but delighted that now I get to look forward to the more nuanced pleasures of a reread.