Book Review: "Out of Oz" by Gregory Maguire

"Out of Oz" by Gregory Maguire is the last installation of his "Wicked Years" series. Like the first two novels in the series, it is an engrossing tale of witches, political upheaval, familial turmoil and, of course, the fantastic land of Oz. The third novel in the series, which centered on the life of the Cowardly Lion was an excellent novel, but it just did not have the draw of the three that centered on the family of the Wicked Witch of the West. "Out of Oz" more than makes up for that slip, while including the Cowardly Lion in a much more attractive way.

The best character out of the motley crew of Ozians presented in the Wicked Years has arguably been Elphaba -- the Wicked Witch of the West. Painted in the original tales as an evil, Dorothy-hating nut job with a shoe obsession disorder; Maguire took another direction. His Wicked Witch has a name, a history and a family. She is more of a misunderstood activist with a knack for magic than evil. She is a bit of a grump, though. Since her death at the hand of Dorothy in "Wicked," nothing has come quite close to matching her in Maguire's books -- until "Out of Oz."

"Out of Oz" centers on the childhood and teenage years of Elphaba's granddaughter. In "Son of a Witch," Elphaba's son Liir fathers a green girl that comes to be known as Rain. Rain's life takes the reader on a journey that reintroduces many of the important characters from the earlier novels. It drags up old hurts and creates new ones. It is filled with as much tragedy as the story of Elphaba and more. At its heart, it is the story of a girl whose life is defined by the generations before her, but who evades all definition. Rain, like Elphaba, is quick to learn and slow to love. She is fierce, but she is dedicated. She is an even less tame version of her grandmother and she makes "Out of Oz" a page-turner.

Gregory Maguire reuses some of the themes from "Wicked" and "Son of a Witch" in "Out of Oz" with great success. There is magic, but seemingly more restraint. There is the topic of same-gender relationships again, but this time with a huge twist and with a lingering lesson that love does not take heed of trivial matters, such as possession of specific organs. One of the best themes that is ever-present is the anti-hero in all of the heroes. Virtually every character that does anything worthy of approval also has nearly unforgivable flaws. Rain is rude, dismissive, self-absorbed and sulky. Glinda is even more self-absorbed, but she is also petty and narcissistic. The Cowardly Lion is, well, cowardly. Liir is ever in love with two people. The list goes on.

From beginning to end, "Out of Oz" is a fantasy drama that displays Maguire's capacity for taking the unreal and making it realistic. The problems faced may involve a fictional place where dragons and magic dwell, but they are relatable problems. My one complaint is that the "end" reminded me of the Dark Tower series' ending. Thank you, Stephen King. The similarity was that it was so unsatisfying. It was an end without an end. An end left to the imagination is a gift in some ways, but with some futures looking rather uncertain, I would prefer to call it an intermission. However, it looks like it really is the end. Maguire says it is so, as does the dang book jacket.

Shelly Barclay

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