Out of Oz is the fourth and final volume in Gregory Maguire’s The Wicked Years series. Released in November of 2011 by William Morrow, it is preceeded by Wicked, Son of a Witch, and A Lion Among Men. Wicked has also been adapted into a Tony-winning musical of the same name. All four books are built around L. Frank Baum’s Oz series, but from the view of characters other than Dorothy Gale.
Getting your dreams… seems a little, well, complicated
Every volume in The Wicked Years has followed a different protagonist, and Out of Oz is no different. Our unlikely hero this time is Rain, the daughter of Liir and Candle, who was born at the very end of Son of a Witch. When the book opens, she is about eight years old and living with Lady Glinda—also known as the Good Witch of the North—at Mockbeggar Hall, just over the border in Munchkinland. The Free State of Munchkinland is actively at war with the rest of Loyal Oz, which is under the divine rule of Shell Thropp, the younger brother of Elphaba and Nessarose—the Wicked Witches of the West and East, respectively. The situation is deteriorating rapidly, as both factions desperately search for Elphaba’s Grimmerie, a spell book which holds magical knowledge that could end the war—but at what price? We follow Rain as she grows up in this chaotic environment, her every move shadowed by her family’s history and the burden of protecting the Grimmerie, and those capable of reading it, from falling into the wrong hands.
It might be keen to build a town of green and wonderful road of yellow brick
There are a lot of very good things that happen in Out of Oz. Gregory Maguire is a wonderful writer, capable of masterful word play. The worldbuilding put into his version of Oz is very detailed and consistent across all four books. His characters are complex and deep, and their motivations are not always what you think they are. The backstory, especially, is quite complicated, so I would advise a fresh read of the first three books before picking up Out of Oz. While there is a very brief summary of who’s who, who’s related to who, and what’s happened in the previous books at the front of Out of Oz, Maguire doesn’t spend a lot of time catching you up on all the details, and there are many details to catch up on. Within the boundaries of this book, Maguire continues to explore the ideas of racism, nationalism, war, destiny, and the human condition. He also explores parenthood more than he has in the past three books.
Don’t lose sight of who you are
One thing I really look for in books is a solid hook that pulls me all the way through to the end of the story. That was missing for me in Out of Oz, and I think the main culprit was the constantly changing points of view Maguire uses to tell this story. The protagonist is Rain, but the book opens before Rain is capable of understand what is happening around her, and therefore she is not yet a reliable point of view in a complex situation. In light of this, Glinda is the first point of view we have. Glinda is someone who will never let you know what she’s thinking, and most of her motivations behind her actions remain nebulous until the end of the book. From there we move through Brr, Liir, and then finally to Rain before bouncing back to Liir here and there at the end of the book.
Every time the narration switched, I fell out of the story. This is not because I inherently dislike changes in point of view or narration. I think my issues with the switches stemmed from the fact that most of the characters are very indirect, and are used to hiding their emotions. It took me time to learn who they were, and as soon as I did that and found a connection with them, I was left to start all over again with someone new. When Liir’s point of view was abandoned for Rain’s (the fourth viewpoint switch in the book), I was really frustrated. That is not to say that these changes are an inherent problem of the book, but it’s a stylistic choice I personally had an issue with.
Why you should read this book?
Just like its predecessors, Out of Oz is a literary fantasy and satire with a lot of dry humor. Fans of Maguire’s previous books will find a lot to like in his newest offering. If you like unconventional characters, moral ambiguity, and creative vocabulary, you’ll likely find this a treat as well. Fans of more conventional fantasy, particularly in plot structure, should likely leave this one alone.