Son of a Witch
April 15, 2018 3:08 PM - by Gregory Maguire - Subscribe

Liir isn’t dead yet, technically. There’s a lot that could have killed him in the ten years since the death of Elphaba, the so-called Witch of the West, and the subsequent disappearance of Dorothy and the Wizard. The Good Witch has been deposed by an increasingly theocratic Emperor Apostle, who has built up the Emerald City militia for reasons unknown. Faceless bodies are cropping up in the countryside, and the Conference of Talking Birds is getting eaten, and roughly a third of Oz is literally on fire. But somehow, Liir—last seen alone in the Witch’s castle, with nothing left of her but a cape, a broom, and rumors that he might have been her son—he has survived all this and more, for just long enough to turn up comatose in a ditch in the middle of nowhere. (cw: lots of things)

Also, dragons. (Also, nuns.)
This, and the last book, are my favorites among the Wicked Years series. It’s at this point that we enter a more actively dark period of the series, as opposed to the constant low-grade sense of dread pervading Wicked. Surprisingly, Son of a Witch doesn’t skip entire parts of Liir’s life as did Wicked (though it does tell much of the story in flashbacks, while Liir lies dying). More surprisingly, Son of a Witch is not* one long shadow of gloom: Liir’s destiny is not so set in stone as was Elphaba’s, since he doesn’t appear in the original books. And so there are bright points, all the more touching for how they appear in the midst of failure and pain. (This, for example, is the first time we see something like a conscious effort to accomplish something that actually sort-of succeeds, towards the end.)
Also, and for basically the first time, the series starts to focus on other characters (some of which live!). Son of a Witch focuses on the nuns of Saint Glinda’s mauntery, who are present throughout the rest of the Wicked Years (and are some of my favorites).

Things to consider:
• Candle. Not the kind of Strong Female Protagonist you expect to see (though she is exactly that). They can’t all be green-skinned firebrands, I guess.
• The central twist of this book was somehow both perfectly predictable and completely unexpected (to me, anyway). Vindicating the Witch was one thing, but I think this is the first time Maguire has one of his main characters do something Unequivocally Awful while still trying to evoke something like sympathy for them. On a related note, I would say that this book represents the whole series at both its most and least hopeful. The Incident of Bengda is probably the single most capital-A Awful thing that happens in the series, let alone that a main character causes. On the other hand, the Eye of the Witch part is the closest any character ever really comes to doing something and having it work out as planned (though, in true Maguire form, even that comes back to bite Liir later on).
• The romance scenes. The dude has not lost his touch. Those of you looking for more along the lines of the Emerald City affair from Wicked will not be disappointed. (On the other hand, the sex scene in the mauntery strikes me as kind of dumb, if necessary for the plot.)
• Somehow, the Witch got a much bigger reputation in death than she ever had in life. She is now a Person Who Everyone Knows. (Liir, on the other hand, is a nobody, which is nice while it lasts.)
• In case you couldn’t tell, Maguire is not big on religion. In the Wicked Years, it’s usually useless at best, and at worst, it’s used to justify atrocities. (As always, he aims for being realistic, and he might have a point; your mileage may vary.) The last few mauntery scenes might be the only positive depictions of religion in the whole series.
• Southstairs. The mere concept of Southstairs. And now for some much-needed content warnings, in no particular order: Prisons! Ethnic cleansing! People on fire! Cadavers being eaten! Infanticide (of cute animals)! Other cute animals getting eaten! Rape, kind of (did I mention how stupid the mauntery sex scene was?)! Disembodied faces! Corpse sandwiches! (I swear this isn’t a Robot Chicken sketch; it’s actually one of the more insightful and even uplifting books I’ve ever read, but it’s not for the faint of heart.)
• Those of you feeling vaguely disappointed at Yackle’s brief and senseless appearances in this story: hang on tight. The next book will scratch that itch for you.
• Maguire takes a break partway through the story to lay out some of his theories of personhood, with only minimum relevance to the plot. Normally I’d say any author who does this is taking themselves way too seriously, but it actually kind of works? Discuss.
• The final scene with the Princess Nastoya. Just… wow.
• I think Douglas Smith (the illustrator) peaked with this book’s cover. Pics on request.

• “A witch’s hat, a Wizard’s showbiz display, a cleric’s stole, a scholar’s gown, a soldier’s dress sartorials. A hundred ways to duck the question: how will I live with myself now that I know what I know?”
• “’Are we a couple now?’ he asked, bravely enough.’
“’We are one and one,’ she said. ‘In Quadling thinking, one plus one doesn’t equal a single unit of two. One plus one equals both.’”
• “Not everyone is born a witch or a saint. Not everyone is born talented or crooked or blessed; some are born definite in no particular at all. We are a fountain of shimmering contradictions, most of us.”
• “You could catalog the thousand ways people shrink from life, as if chance and change are by their nature toxic, disfiguring. Elphaba, with her sympathies far more substantial than her luck, had at least wrestled with the questions. She’d shoved, and barked, and made herself a right nuisance.”
• “Forget us, forget us all, it makes no difference now, but don’t forget that we loved it when we were alive.”
• “He set out once more, with a sense that his life would be rich in setting outs, and perhaps poorer in homecomings.”
• “Yet the world was a spectacle, its own old argument for itself. Endlessly expounded with every new articulation of leaf and limb, laugh and lamb, loaf and loam. Surely there was something in the world lovely enough to counter the dread of being alone, a solitary figure untroubled by ambition, unfettered by talent, uncertain of a damn thing?”
• “Yet today had dawned, and tomorrow could not be foreseen… It was Time Yet to Come that possessed the strongest force of all… a magic greener than all of green Oz. Inscrutable, terrifying, and exhilarating at once.”
• “He took her to the doorway and held her up in the warm rain. She cleaned up green.”
posted by queen anne's remorse (2 comments total)
(Note: the cover shown in the post is not the Douglas Smith illustration. Google it if curious.)
posted by queen anne's remorse at 3:09 PM on April 15, 2018

this book was a hard read, but I always remember the singing faces, and the final line
posted by Countess Elena at 5:38 PM on April 15, 2018

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