I read Wicked before I ever watched the musical. It haunted me. Imaginative, dark, beautiful, achingly tragic, and haunting—I loved the book. Son of a Witch came out around that time, so I quickly devoured the next book in the saga. And while waiting for Maguire to write A Lion Among Men, I read Lost and Mirror Mirror, his other fanciful books. Of course, before reading A Lion Among Men, I felt the need to reread Wicked and Son of a Witch. So while Out of Oz was winging its way to me from Amazon, I refreshed my memory by rereading the first three books yet again.
I never understood why my mother reread her favorite books. It made absolutely no sense to me to read something you already knew the ending to. But I am learning a whole new way of experiencing a story. The world draws you in deeper, the characters are more real. The overarching narrative is grander, the stakes higher. That's probably a fair amount of hyperbole, but it's been my recent experience.
After reading through the first three books in the last two weeks, I felt thoroughly immersed in Maguire's Oz. One almost needs that amount of engagement to get through Out of Oz, his most dense and complicated novel thus far. More than any of the others, it draws on the original L. Frank Baum books. Part of me wishes I'd re-read those—a childhood favorite of mine and my dad's. But the primary twist at the end of the book would not have been as unexpected or as painful had I remembered some of those Baum characters and their stories. So maybe the surprise was better.
This book was the most like Wicked for me in that I felt so emotionally invested in some of the characters, broken and wounded as they were, that their losses struck me. From the Lion and Nor to Liir and Candle, from Rain to Tip, I hurt for so many of them. There is enough plot summary out there, so I will spare you, reader. But the strongest story of this book, to me, was not the tale of Oz, the restoration of order and justice. It was the story of lost childhood and young love. Both are themes that pervade the novels, filled with characters from broken families, broken lives, and uncertain beginnings. Most relationships end tragically in Maguire's world. And in real life, first love rarely works out. Yet there is a part of the heart that still wants those first passions, the feeling of giving oneself wholly, to last.
I was a little less satisfied than most reviewers at the end of the book. The scene with Glinda is unnecessarily vague and created more questions than it answered. I also wanted more resolution with Rain, Elphaba's granddaughter. Although Maguire says this is his last Oz novel, I find myself hoping that he writes another tome. If not, I'll have to be content with the way I continued the story in my mind, with young lovers magically reunited, birthrights restored, and Elphaba and Fiyero alive, somewhere in the hills of Oz.