Out of Oz
by Gregory Maguire
Recommended Ages: 14+
I suppose, though, one might also read gratitude toward Baum between the lines of this quartet. What Maguire has done here could be regarded as an homage, honoring the world Baum created by making it deeper, bigger, more complex and true to life. It's all a matter of how you read his tells. One tell may be the way he portrays Dorothy as an irritating misfit. Dorothy returns in this book, six years later in Kansas time and eighteen years later in Oz time, a little sadder but not much wiser, and finds herself on trial for her life for the murder of the Wicked Witch of the East. Separatist Munchkinland is at war with the rest of Oz, and both sides are having a rough time of it, and nothing boosts morale at a time of national crisis like a nice, juicy show trial.
The war ultimately hinges on the shoulder joints of dragons, which in turn hinge on the binding of a book of magic called the Grimmerie, which both sides want in order to get the upper, er, wing. Committed to keeping the book out of the wrong hands (namely, whichever side of the war would use it against the other) is a mismatched group of outsiders: the Cowardly Lion and his human wife, Elphaba's grown-up son Liir and his wife Candle, the dwarf who curates the prophetic Clock of the Time Dragon, and a runaway from a religious community who remembers the first time Dorothy arrived in Oz. They are joined by a silent, strange girl named Rain, and later by a boy named Tip whose true identity you should already know if you've read Baum's Oz books. I won't spoil the revelation here, except to note that it's even more awkward and painful than what Baum fans may recall.
Glinda is in this book too, in a segment that dramatizes the grimness of military occupation, and so are many other characters from earlier in the series. Maguire seems to have taken great pains to find all the loose ends from the first three books and tie them all up, to the extent his philosophy of story allows. In his acknowledgements he mentions someone who helped him index the first three books, which sounds like a bright idea for the author of a complex, multi-volume epic. Other familiar touches will include his riffs on Oz catch-phrases such as, "There's no place like home," and his love-knows-no-gender brand of explicit sexuality that earns an emphatic Adult Content Advisory.
In spite of himself, however, Maguire tells what turns out to be his most satisfying story in the series. His commitment to blowing up the reader's expectation of a tidy ending somehow doesn't prevent him from crafting a tale in which a raft of moving pieces come together in a well-timed climax and a convincing solution to the magical problems that afflict a magical world. And though he doesn't tell us that anyone lives happily ever after, the chance that they may find happiness somehow, sometime, remains. And that, in Maguire's storytelling space as well as the real world, is about as much as we can really hope for.