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A Lion Among Men

Gregory Maguire brings the characters of "Wicked" into a sequel.

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It’s back to Oz with a dark edge for Gregory Maguire in A Lion Among Men, his third and latest installment of “The Wicked Years.”

Eight years have passed and though the influence of both Dorothy and Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) remains palpable, these two characters appear only in flashbacks.

And with these powerful women out of the picture, Oz is at odds: Elphaba’s brother has claimed a divine right to the throne, imposing punitive laws and an expansionist mind-set. Indeed, his regime has ushered in an unkind era for many in the kingdom, where war between Emerald City forces and secessionist Munchkinlanders is imminent, close enough to “smell it in the air like laundry soap.”

Time hasn’t been kind to Dorothy’s familiar trio from the Yellow Brick Road either.

The scarecrow is literally a “straw man” in his government position. Tin Man Nick Chopper is engaging in shady deals while organizing “tiktock workers.” And Brrrr, the cowardly lion, has been released from jail on one condition: that he locate an ancient oracle who knows the whereabouts of the Grimmerie, a book of spells that power-hungry leaders must find in order to gain complete control of the territory.

It’s an ambitious project for Brrrr and Maguire alike.

To Maguire’s credit, “A Lion Among Men” maintains the swashbuckling pace of the previous volumes. Dialogue and plot move with such speed that there is little time to ponder Maguire’s crass but clever adults-only allusions.

Yet the story is far more than a bawdy romp.

Brrrr’s hunt for the Grimmerie takes him across Oz, but it’s his existential search for self that forces him to take much bigger steps. The subplot is so well-crafted that readers of all ages could enjoy witnessing Brrrr’s transformation from an insecure kitten in the woods to a compassionate, engaged “manimal.”

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