Book Review: Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire

Out of Oz, The Wicked Years, Gregory Maguire, fairytale retelling, fantasy, book review, bookstagram

Okay, first off, I loved Wicked. Loved, loved, loved it. Shed quarts of tears while reading it. And loved the musical too!

However, I wasn’t so enamoured by the following books, Son of a Witch and A Lion Among Men. Maguire’s writing keeps me turning the pages… and yet I did not get as lost in the books as I did in Wicked. I couldn’t relate to most of the characters or what was happening to Oz. There was a lot of persecution and oppression, as in Wicked, but somehow… I could not care.

So I was a little apprehensive when I picked up Out of Oz. But, somehow, the book manages to tie in the rest of the series and make me care about what happens to (most of) the characters once more.

The first part of the book starts off with Glinda and here I gave a little cheer to find our favourite bubbly witch back in action again. I’ve missed her since Wicked – and felt she really perked up the small parts in Son of a Witch and Lion Among Men where she made an appearance. When we meet her again, Glinda is involved in a rather perilous game of wits with Commander Cherrystone (yes, back again too!). Her daring and cunning, hidden under a frothy surface, livens up the pages, interspersed with quiet moments of melancholy. Glinda is and always has been closely tied to Elphaba and it felt as if she’d brought Elphie alive again – we feel her yearning, her love for Elphaba and how much she missed her – and realise how much we miss Elphaba too. Even though Elphaba’s been long dead, her spectre still looms large over Oz, overshadowing the rest of the characters – she’s more alive dead than most of them ever will be. And in that same way, Wicked looms large over the rest of the series, casting a long shadow that’s hard to get out from under.

Tied in with Glinda’s story is the tale of Rain, a surly servant girl of Glinda’s who somehow has the ability to use the Grimmerie, the book of magic everyone is after. Rain’s pretty much a wet fish at the beginning and I start to  wonder if she’s going to be another character I could not give a damn about. However, much later in the book she begins to assert herself and becomes much more likeable. In the meantime, we’re reintroduced to Brr who has taken up with the crew of the Clock of the Time Dragon and  Nor – Nor! I’m so glad to see Nor again, though I felt her character was rather unfinished toward the end. I get that she’s not meant to have an easy time of it and has been suffering ever since she was kidnapped in Wicked, but still I felt Nor had so much more to offer than Maguire allowed her. Brr, however, gets fleshed out a lot more in Out of Oz than he ever did in his own book, and I’m definitely liking him a lot more here. Dorothy too returns and while her character at times seems a little negligent to the story, she does display a lot more verve and complexity than some of the others.

Old characters like Candle, Liir and Trism show up too, though I can’t decide if I’ve grown fonder of them. They’re supposed to be main or at least secondary characters, yet they seem so apathetic and lukewarm, even when they’re meant to be displaying strong emotions. I wonder if Maguire means them to be so, to further emphasise their helplessness under the crushing might of Emperor Shell, but still… even Shell seems a ghost of himself. He might have been a cad and a scoundrel in previous books, but now he’s just well… a shell of what he used to be, pardon the pun.

At times, it feels like Maguire’s just taking us on a grand farewell tour of Oz, making a final circuit, visiting all the old places and waving goodbye to all the characters from previous books. It feels a little negligent at times, but Maguire’s storytelling abilities weave a spell and keep the pages turning. I did enjoy the travels of the company of the Clock of the Time Dragon, kept lively by minor characters like Mr Boss and Little Daffy. Also, as I said before, I enjoyed Rain’s story as it picks up in the second half of the book, and I love the rapport she eventually forms with Glinda at the end. Rain towards the end of the book makes it all up for me, though by God I wanted to pick her up and give her a good shake at the beginning.

So the verdict for Out of Oz? Not as good as Wicked, but an entertaining and original read on its own, and a great tie-in to the series. Some of it might not make sense if you haven’t read the rest of the series, though. But if you’ve read the first three books, I would definitely recommend picking up Out of Oz. 

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