When Quentin is tossed out of Fillory he is forced to start at the beginning and that means returning to Brakebills, the school that made him a magician. Back at where he started, Quentin now has time to evaluate his life. What does magic mean to him and what things would he undo if he could. In this final trip, Quentin must finally accept himself for who he is and now and not who he thought he would be. Life isn't fair to anyone really, you just have to deal with as it comes along.
One of the things that I have struggled with in this series is that I don't find a single character in the least bit likable and while that's not necessary for a good book, it certainly goes a long way. Thankfully, by the time we get to The Magician's Land, Quentin and crew are all about thirty years old and a long way from the annoying teenagers we first met in The Magicians. Gone is the heavy sense of entitlement and purposeful disillusionment with life and instead there's a more mature acceptance that not everyone can be special. That being said, I feel as though Grossman spent more time telling me that Quentin had changed and become a different person than showing me. It's as though he felt that if he said it enough times, the reader would be convinced that this is the case.
The few attempts at growth really came out of nowhere and made little sense to me. When Quentin's father dies, he becomes angry and emotional when he learns that his father was exactly what he appeared to be - an ordinary man. What I don't understand is why this is such a big deal to Quentin, given that he has spent the entire series talking about how disconnected he is from his parents. In fact, in this very book, when he landed on earth after being expelled from Fillory, he chose to go to Brakebills instead of seeing his parents, yet I'm supposed to believe that he's mourning the loss of his father? Quentin's search for a father figure then moves to Brakebills South and even then I found myself wondering where this parental relationship came from? Mayakovsky didn't seem particularly enamored with Quentin when they met in the first book and Quentin is all too eager to put him in the position of daddy. I'm not even sure where this came from and why it's relevant beyond Quentin picking up the coins he would need for later.
Women have pretty much gotten the short shift in this series and I don't think I can say that The Magician's Land is much better. I know that Grossman was trying to tie up loose ends but Quentin bringing Alice back from the dead really didn't help matters as far as I am concerned. Sure, Alice becomes human again and she lets Quentin have it and it's almost cathartic to read after how insufferable Quentin has been. Had Alice held onto her anger, it really could have gone somewhere but Quentin feeds her bacon, mangoes and chocolate and the plies her with champagne and it's all over. Alice is ready to jump in the sack with Quentin and while she may not be ready to be in a romantic relationship with him right away, the seeds are there. Sure, Alice does save Quentin by punching Penny in the face but really, bringing Alice back is all about making Quentin a hero again. All of her pain and all of her suffering is really about him and his path.
Julia was raped by a God at the end of The Magician King and from there she became a demi god. Julia doesn't have a large role in this novel at all. Yes, she works behind the scenes to ensure that the God who raped her is killed and I suppose there's some satisfaction with that but the rape never should have happened in the first damn place. Julia is pretty much absent from The Magician's Land and only shows up at the end to congratulate Quentin on giving up his godhood and to take up to the other side, so that he can see that represents the child he once was. Yes, Quentin takes the time to connect with his inner child and the sense of wonder and hope that he used to have. Julia's appearance in this book, is about helping Quentin come to terms with his past so that he can move forward.