Gregory Maguire's "The Wicked Years" series ends just as the journey of its source material began, with a motley crew traveling down the Yellow Brick Road.
It's not Dorothy in the lead this time around, however — although the girl from Kansas does fittingly play an important role in Out of Oz, the fourth and final volume of the fantasy series Maguire began with Wicked in 1995. The star of this final chapter is instead Rain, the granddaughter of the green-skinned, animal-loving outsider Elphaba.
Wizard of Oz fans know Elphaba, of course, as the Wicked Witch of the West. Yet things aren't exactly giddy anymore in Munchkinland 18 years after the "Matter of Dorothy," when a house was dropped on Elphaba's sister and Elphaba herself melted after Dorothy threw water on her. The Munchkins and others are engaged in a brewing civil war with the Emerald City and "Loyal Oz," led by the emperor — and Elphaba's brother — Shell Thropp.
The self-possessed but good-hearted Glinda — the other star of Wicked — and her staff in Munchkinland are invaded by military forces from Emerald City, and in the novel's overlong beginning sequence, she discovers little Rain can't read but seems to have a natural talent when it comes to a magical book of spells once owned by Elphaba.
The novel picks up when Rain joins with a nomadic group including a crass dwarf and Brrr, aka the Cowardly Lion. They head away from the impending war to find Rain's long-lost parents, and she finds her true power while making allies of the animal and human variety.
In four books, Maguire has expanded the mythology of Oz from L. Frank Baum's books and created a land that's just as rich as Middle-earth or Narnia, and balances the serious with the sublime, especially in its Harry Potter-esque phrases such as "Virus Skepticle's bentlebranch folly." His prose is inviting to new readers, and the author cleverly inserts nods to the 1939 Judy Garland movie and even The Wiz for those obsessed with flying monkeys and Munchkins.
While it meanders at times, Out of Oz is a satisfying finish to the "Wicked Years" saga.