One of the things that I have struggled with in this series is that I don't find a single character in the least bit likable and while that's not necessary for a good book, it certainly goes a long way. Thankfully, by the time we get to The Magician's Land, Quentin and crew are all about thirty years old and a long way from the annoying teenagers we first met in The Magicians. Gone is the heavy sense of entitlement and purposeful disillusionment with life and instead there's a more mature acceptance that not everyone can be special. That being said, I feel as though Grossman spent more time telling me that Quentin had changed and become a different person than showing me. It's as though he felt that if he said it enough times, the reader would be convinced that this is the case.
The few attempts at growth really came out of nowhere and made little sense to me. When Quentin's father dies, he becomes angry and emotional when he learns that his father was exactly what he appeared to be - an ordinary man. What I don't understand is why this is such a big deal to Quentin, given that he has spent the entire series talking about how disconnected he is from his parents. In fact, in this very book, when he landed on earth after being expelled from Fillory, he chose to go to Brakebills instead of seeing his parents, yet I'm supposed to believe that he's mourning the loss of his father? Quentin's search for a father figure then moves to Brakebills South and even then I found myself wondering where this parental relationship came from? Mayakovsky didn't seem particularly enamored with Quentin when they met in the first book and Quentin is all too eager to put him in the position of daddy. I'm not even sure where this came from and why it's relevant beyond Quentin picking up the coins he would need for later.
Women have pretty much gotten the short shift in this series and I don't think I can say that The Magician's Land is much better. I know that Grossman was trying to tie up loose ends but Quentin bringing Alice back from the dead really didn't help matters as far as I am concerned. Sure, Alice becomes human again and she lets Quentin have it and it's almost cathartic to read after how insufferable Quentin has been. Had Alice held onto her anger, it really could have gone somewhere but Quentin feeds her bacon, mangoes and chocolate and the plies her with champagne and it's all over. Alice is ready to jump in the sack with Quentin and while she may not be ready to be in a romantic relationship with him right away, the seeds are there. Sure, Alice does save Quentin by punching Penny in the face but really, bringing Alice back is all about making Quentin a hero again. All of her pain and all of her suffering is really about him and his path.
Julia was raped by a God at the end of The Magician King and from there she became a demi god. Julia doesn't have a large role in this novel at all. Yes, she works behind the scenes to ensure that the God who raped her is killed and I suppose there's some satisfaction with that but the rape never should have happened in the first damn place. Julia is pretty much absent from The Magician's Land and only shows up at the end to congratulate Quentin on giving up his godhood and to take up to the other side, so that he can see that represents the child he once was. Yes, Quentin takes the time to connect with his inner child and the sense of wonder and hope that he used to have. Julia's appearance in this book, is about helping Quentin come to terms with his past so that he can move forward.
Of the female characters in this book, Janet got the best treatment. In many ways it felt like Grossman was trying to recapture the magic of Julia's backstory only this time without the rape. Janet spending time in the desert and confronting the loneliness of her childhood and the reason why she held her power back from the others felt real and cathartic to me in a way that Quentin's little chat with his inner child most certainly did not. I love that she came out of that desert sure of herself, her power and her role in Fillory. I like that when Fillory was dying she realised that she would never have children and was absolutely okay with that.
Grossman didn't do much better with characters of colour. In The Magician's Land there were a few brief side characters who never really amounted to much. It feels like they were shoved in to avoid charges of erasure but since these characters were not vital to the story and never really went anywhere, I'm still calling it erasure.
Elliot really hasn't had much to do since The Magician. He spent most of The Magician's Land snarking with Janet and running to Quentin for help. I suppose I should be thankful that he had a battle to protect Fillory at the beginning of the book because that's most action he got. Here's the thing, other than managing to stay mostly sober, I don't think that Elliot's character actually grew and he became little more than a background character by the end of the book.
The best part of The Magician's Land is when Grossman focuses on describing the world of Fillory. I loved reading about the magical beasts and the clockwork trees and even the turtle that held the world up. This is when I found myself getting lost in the story. I was even happy that he managed to tie up all the loose ends, even though I'm not exactly pleased at how he got there or the inclusion of characters that didn't feel necessary. When they head back to the Neitherworld, I wasn't really surprised to see Penny but his inconsistency irked me. I don't think that Grossman ever really knew what to do with Penny and so I don't know why he decided to squeeze him in.
The Magician's Land did what was expected of it - it tied up loose ends and as aforementioned brought in people who I didn't feel were relevant because there was no closure needed there. Clinton pretty much remained insufferable from beginning to end and the female characters seemed more about guiding Quentin or giving him a reason to experience manpain. There were plenty of times when the characters let the world down and its a real shame because Fillory was not only exciting, it was beautiful.