Some of you may remember a few months ago when I finished reading Wicked – The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. I gave that book my highest recommendation and I was just as impressed with Gregory Maguire’s Son of a Witch: Volume Two in the Wicked Years, though somewhat confused towards the end of the novel (see below).
As the title of the novel suggests, this story focuses on the Wicked Witch of the West’s son – a young man named Liir. Essentially, the entire novel follows Liir’s journey growing up in the weird world of Oz with no discernible family or role models for him to loop up to. In some sense, the book becomes a story of Liir’s progression as a person and his coming to terms with his history while trying to figure out if there is any hope for his future.
Unfortunately for Liir, he has a tremendous bad luck streak which extends from his time as a child through the end of the novel. However, depending upon your view of the novel’s ending (which I won’t relay here), a strong argument can be made that Liir’s entire life story may consist of a series of half-starts and failures, but that the story itself is a triumph for his family. You have to read the book (especially the ending) for my summation to make any sense.
I thought it was fun to read this book as it brings back many of the old characters from Wicked and introduced some great new characters. Also, the reader has the opportunity to continue to watch the evolution of Oz – now in it’s post-Wizard state of affairs. Maguire sticks to his familiar story telling style with an abundance of sexual innuendo throughout the novel (oftentimes wedged in at awkward spots in the story) and a pessimistic tone to the novel’s writing. I enjoyed the pessimistic tone since, I think, the tone is in direct contrast to the idea that is pushed throughout the story regarding Elphaba (the Wicked Witch). Either Maguire wrote this novel with a stroke of brilliance or it just worked out right.
As I alluded to earlier, though, Liir’s personal story of growth gets weird towards the end of the novel. For some reason, Maguire expands the story of Liir’s self-discovery to all aspects of his life – including his sexuality. At one point in the story, Liir uses a well-connected old army buddy to help him complete a major mission that destroys one of the Emerald City’s strongest weapons (I won’t ruin the whole thing here because you should read the book and find out for yourself). Due to these actions, Liir and his army buddy have to get out of the Emerald City before they are hunted down and tried for their crimes. They wind up at a rundown old inn and the story progresses is a regular fashion and then all of a sudden they’re sleeping together! The whole thing is really awkward, but not because of the sexuality question (college students are forced to read enough of that crap in liberal arts programs), but because of how completely unrelated to the core story this twist is overall.
There was little reason to introduce Liir’s sexuality into the equation and the novel could have ended without any of this being included and remained a very strong story. The reader begins this book by reviewing the Liir’s history and current problems and then once you think you’ve grown to know something about the main character, you’re thrown this weird curve ball that really seems forced into the story and completely unnecessary.
I really feel like this “twist” becomes an unnecessary burden on what is a larger, more compelling story. That said, I also received the third book in this series for Christmas and I’ve finished it and will post a review of it tomorrow. It’s funny – the only reason I read Wicked and Son of a Witch is because I wanted to read the book about the Cowardly Lion.
If you’ve already read Wicked, then I recommend reading Son of a Witch: Volume Two in the Wicked Years. The story of Liir finding himself in the corrupt and bizarre world of Oz that Maguire creates is both compelling and entertaining. If you can manage to put aside the forced, awkward twist in Liir’s story towards the end of the novel, I think you’ll find a very strong, very tight story in Son of a Witch.