Animals talk, attack dragons prowl the skies and political unrest afflicts the land of Oz in this richly detailed sequel to Maguire’s contemporary fantasy classic Wicked (1996).
Its protagonist is Liir, the probable offspring of Elphaba Thropp, the late, mostly unlamented Wicked Witch of the West (unless Liir’s birth mother was actually Elphaba’s unfortunate sibling Nessarose; it’s complicated). We meet Liir as he lies near death in one of Oz’s outlying lands and is taken to the Mauntery of Saint Glinda, where the venerable Superior Maunt entrusts his care to beautiful gypsy girl Candle. Parallel flashbacks mix with subsequent action to describe Liir’s boyhood adventures with Dorothy Gale (even if she has murdered his mother) and her nonhuman companions, various ordeals in an embattled Oz riven with rebellion (from which the Wizard has long since fled), as Liir seeks his missing childhood friend Nor as well as Elphaba’s notorious book of spells, joins the Emerald City’s Home Guard defense force and—aloft on Elphaba’s flying broomstick—challenges the forces of both disorder and incumbency, makes peace with his past and envisions a future in which even changelings may assume their full humanity. The book works too hard to dazzle us; it’s considerably more cluttered and strained than Wicked. But, like L. Frank Baum’s magical land itself, it’s filled with wonderful things: the neurotic kvetching of the Cowardly Lion (who disappears, alas, much too soon); a brilliant subplot involving the half-human, half-elephant Princess Nastoya; a Conference of Birds; and the political ascendancy of the Scarecrow, a puppet ruler serving a cabal of bankers. Best of all is Liir’s arduous pilgrimage toward becoming what he was meant to be.
Too long, but few readers will fail to stay its magical course. Once again, the myth of Oz proves its enduring power.