This final volume of Grossman’s Harry-Potter-meets-Narnia-but-for-grownups-so-there’s-sex-and-drinking trilogy is a satisfying conclusion to the tale that began with The Magicians and continued in The Magician King. Quentin Coldwater, the teenager who got accepted to Brakebills Academy of magic and then discovered the legendary land of Fillory, is an adult now. And the Magicians trilogy has always been as much a coming-of-age story as it is a fantasy story. It’s a coming of age that focuses not on the adolescent years but on young adulthood — what you do after you leave school, who your friends are, how you build a career and weather your quarter-life crisis, and most importantly, who are you going to be? Quentin may pass through magical portals to parallel universes and ride on mythical beasts, but ultimately, he has to face the same questions as any young man turning thirty. What is his life about? Will there always be a newer and better quest to go on, another mythic enemy to defeat?
Yes, there’s a crisis in Fillory: that magical world may just be ending. And Quentin and his crew of mismatched friends have to do something about it. But that quest, with all its deep musings on the importance of deities and what happens when we outgrow them, takes a backseat (for this reader, anyway) to Quentin’s inner world, his (potential) rediscovery of a lost love and his personal quest to create something new of his own, rather than forever being an explorer of other people’s worlds.
Looking back over my reviews of the first two books, I see that I always had a problem warming to Quentin as a main character. He’s not particularly likable and throughout the series I have often wanted to shake him, but I did find myself warming to him in this volume. Like many book series that I’ve read while the author is still writing them, this trilogy has suffered, for me, from the lengthy gaps between books. I always find I’ve forgotten a lot of the plot and characters and take the first hundred pages or so just to get myself up to speed. The good news is that this series is well-written and compelling enough that I would be happy to go back to the beginning and reread them all one after another, to get a better sense of how the story unfolds.