Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Lion Among Men, by Gregory Maguire (novel)

A Lion Among Men is the sequel to Wicked and Son of a Witch. Wicked is a brilliant, brilliant book, but it was such a tragedy I swore not to ever re-read it. Son and Lion have been sitting on the to-be-read shelf for years, and with Out of Oz described as the conclusion to the cycle, it seemed time to read them (see my review of Son for more detail).

A Lion Among Men has a lot of the same flaws as Son of a Witch. It rambles, and the narrative is mostly a series of flashbacks. But when taken together with Son, it very much appears that the two are essentially the third book of a trilogy. Middle books of trilogies are usually the weakest, and in some ways their task is to set up the final book. I won't know if this assessment is true until reading Out of Oz, but the idea is promising enough that I'm unwilling to write the book off.

As standalone novels, neither Lion nor Son are up to the level of Maguire's other work. They both ramble, they both have an odd narrative focus, and neither resolves the story well. Further, they take place largely in parallel and end at about the same point in time, but with little interaction between them. That's not a particularly good thing, and under other circumstances it would be enough such that I would not pursue the series further.

Note, though, that this is almost exactly the same structure that The Two Towers has as part of the Lord of the Rings. No, I'm not comparing Wicked Years to LoTR in any way; aside from the two both being fantasies they have little in common. But if The Two Towers had been released as two short novels following Fellowship of the Ring, I'd have the same criticism.

So should you read this book? Maybe. If Out of Oz serves Wicked Years as well as Return of the King did Lord of the Rings, the answer will be an unquestioning 'yes.' if not . . . then it has to be judged strict on its own merits. Fortunately, it has merits, and more merits than Son of a Witch. Telling much of the story in flashback serves this book better than Son, with there being more tension in the plot and better coherence to the story over all. In on particular plot twist, the flashback actually improves the reveal. ISon, Liir is far more acted upon than he actually acts. In LionBrrr grows and changes convincingly over time. The novel ends with him in a much different frame of mind, and there is promise of an interesting result to come of it. But that's also a weakness, as it seem to just be setting the stage for Out of Oz. Whether that's good or bad will depend on whether Out of Oz is actually a conclusion to a trilogy or 'just' another story.

But before reading Out of Oz, I'm going to break my vow and re-read Wicked. Wish me luck.

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