On a purely narrative level, Gregory Maguire’s finale to his Oz books does a good job of wrapping up the many plot threads left dangling in the preceding 3 books in the series. If you are expecting an epic conclusion to the story begun 15 years ago with Wicked, you will get it. Just don’t be surprised if it doesn’t go exactly how you think it will. Maguire’s penchant for under emphasizing plot twists is on full display. As propulsive as the ending chapter is, the conclusion to the novel feels rushed and will probably get you thinking about what it all means long after you close the book. This isn’t a criticism so much as a warning. Most of the questions the series has been asking are answered. However, Maguire doesn’t tie the finale closed with a neat little bow. Some of the major questions are left open to interpretation. Your tolerance for the lack of resolution is going to depend on just how much you expected an answer to those questions in the first place.
Out of Oz starts six months after the events of A Lion Among Men. Loyal Oz has now fully committed to war against the seceded Munchkinland and begins a campaign to take control of the massive freshwater lake Restwater. As a jumping off point, General Cherrystone commandeers the estate of Lady Glinda Chuffrey to house his troops while preparing the invasion. Meanwhile, Sir Brr (The Cowardly Lion) has joined the Company of the Clock of the Time Dragon and is hauling the prognosticating tik-tock device to a performance at Glinda’s estate. What the Clock shows all assembled at Glinda’s house sets in motion a chain of events that forces an unlikely group of allies to band together for survival. Along the way Dorothy Gale drops in for an extended visit, the Grimmerie causes excessive amounts of trouble, Liir Thropp and his wife Candle are found, and familiar characters major and minor appear at one time or another. The only constant character in the narrative is Rain, daughter of Liir and Candle, and the granddaughter of Elphaba. Out of Oz is Rain’s story more than any other but it is mainly told by other people which makes Out of Oz the most epic feeling in the series.
Wicked is one of my favorite novels of all time. I know people either love or hate the book and usually have no end to the praise or bile for it. From the opening chapter I was enthralled by the way Maguire re-invented Oz to tell the tragic story of Elphaba. What has always struck me about Maguire is his writing style can be seen as contradictory. He is much more interested in the characters than he is the situations they find themselves in. But he also doesn’t have much use in the narrative for the emotional connections the characters have. It’s not that they don’t care about each other, it’s just that Maguire doesn’t linger on that aspect. The best way I can describe it is that he’s a “show don’t tell” writer. There is almost a documentary feel to the books at times as if Maguire is simply reporting the story in a newspaper article. It is left to the reader to make the connections on an emotional level with the characters.
Even with the somewhat detached style Out of Oz is still quite funny and moving at times. Maguire has peppered the book with sly references to L. Frank Baum’s novels, as well as the movies The Wizard of Oz, Return to Oz, and even the Broadway adaptation of Wicked. How well you are able to catch these references is going to depend on just how well you know the many different sources Maguire is pulling from.
I have been less impressed with the other entries in the series, but Out of Oz comes the closest to re-capturing the magic of Wicked. If you have not read the other novels than Out of Oz is not the place to start. If the exposition dump in the final 30 pages of A Lion Among Men was overwhelming for you than this book may be rough going. If, like me, the answers that were presented left you hungering for more than you will be satisfied with Out of Oz. This is especially true if you think the Wicked series needed more of Elphaba’s presence. More than any of the other books since the original, the shadow of Elphaba Thropp is cast large over this novel. Her relationship to the various characters is expanded and discussed to a degree that dwarfs the other 2 sequels combined. In many ways, Out of Oz is the first true sequel to Wicked which makes it the strongest volume since the first. This is partly attributed to the strange little girl at the center of the book, Rain. Her journey in Out of Oz is similar to Elphaba’s in Wicked, which makes it easy to see past her withdrawn exterior to what she may become. Whether or not she is the true heir to Elphaba’s power is one of the many questions that the novel poses.
If you are a fan of the Wicked series, I think you will find Out of Oz to be a satisfying conclusion. After I closed the book I felt an overwhelming urge to restart the series by re-reading Wicked. When a finale causes that reaction in the reader I think the writer has done something right.