The Magician's Land (Magicians Series #3)

Overview


“If the Narnia books were like catnip for a certain kind of kid, these books are like crack for a certain kind of adult.” —The New York Times

Critics, readers, and fellow writers have all hailed the Magicians trilogy by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lev Grossman as one of the greatest achievements in modern fantasy. Cast out of Fillory, Quentin Coldwater returns to the place his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. All too soon, however, his past ...

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The Magician's Land (Magicians Series #3)

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Overview


“If the Narnia books were like catnip for a certain kind of kid, these books are like crack for a certain kind of adult.” —The New York Times

Critics, readers, and fellow writers have all hailed the Magicians trilogy by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lev Grossman as one of the greatest achievements in modern fantasy. Cast out of Fillory, Quentin Coldwater returns to the place his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. All too soon, however, his past comes looking for him, and Quentin sets out to face his fears and put things right—or die trying. Filled with riveting battle scenes as well as intriguing new characters and the return of beloved favorites, The Magician’s Land brings Grossman’s epic tale to its magnificent conclusion.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A Barnes & Noble Best Book of 2014

The first two books in Lev Grossman’s trilogy followed gifted magician Quentin Coldwater’s transformation from callow youth to fantasy-world king to exiled monarch. His journey was defined by chronic dissatisfaction, overlaid on a life path so magical his ennui borders on cognitive dissonance. But in this pitch-perfect wrap-up to perhaps the best, most democratic fantasy series of its generation, Coldwater finally grows up. The way Grossman entwines hairline plot twists, science-based magic, and the coming of age of a prickly-by-nature narrator is astonishing. This trilogy is for fans of Harry Potter, fans of Narnia, fans of closely observed literary portraiture, and fans of magic, both the real and the narrative kind. See all of the Best Fiction Books of 2014.

The New York Times Book Review - Edan Lepucki
I was…thoroughly swept away by this richly imagined and continually surprising novel…The Magician's Land is the strongest book in Grossman's series. It not only offers a satisfying conclusion to Quentin Coldwater's quests, earthly and otherwise, but also considers complex questions about identity and selfhood as profound as they are entertaining…This is a gifted writer, and his gifts are at their apex in The Magician's Land.
The New York Times - Sarah Lyall
If the Narnia books were like catnip for a certain kind of kid, these books are like crack for a certain kind of adult. By the end, after some truly wondrous scenes that have to do with the dawn (and the end) of existence, ricocheting back and forth between the extraordinary and the quotidian, you feel that breathless, stay-up-all-night, thrumming excitement that you, too, experienced as a child, and that you felt all over again when you first opened up The Magicians and fell headlong into Mr. Grossman's world. Brakebills graduates can have a hard time adjusting to life outside…Readers of Mr. Grossman's mesmerizing trilogy might experience the same kind of withdrawal upon finishing The Magician's Land.
Publishers Weekly
05/12/2014
Grossman’s final entry in the Magicians Trilogy (following The Magician King) brings Quentin Coldwater’s story to a satisfying conclusion. After Quentin is banished from his beloved magical land of Fillory and fired from the Brakebills school of magic, he joins a wizardly heist masterminded by a talking bird. The target: a relic from one of the first children to visit Fillory, whose adventures were immortalized in a series of Narnia-like children’s novels. During this mission, Quentin must confront his past mistakes and his role in the dying Fillory’s future. Just as Quentin achieves a new maturity, so Grossman’s trilogy becomes more than a sex-and-swearing satire of Harry Potter and Narnia. Grossman still can’t resist winking at his novels’ antecedents, as when a character uses the Harry Potter catchphrase “Mischief managed.” Though the tone is occasionally too ironic, and Quentin’s victories overly easy—such as a reconciliation with a key character from the first novel—this novel serves as an elegantly written third act to Quentin’s bildungsroman, in which he at last learns responsibility and to not simply put childish things aside but understand them—and himself—anew. Fans of the trilogy will be pleased at how neatly it all resolves. Agent: Tina Bennett, WME. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
Praise for The Magician's Land 
“Richly imagined and continually surprising. . . . The strongest book in Grossman’s series. It not only offers a satisfying conclusion to Quentin Coldwater’s quests, earthly and otherwise, but also considers complex questions about identity and selfhood as profound as they are entertaining. . . . The Magician’s Land, more than any other book in the trilogy, wrestles with the question of humanity. . . . This is a gifted writer, and his gifts are at their apex in The Magician’s Land.” 
—Edan Lepucki, The New York Times Book Review 
 
“The strength of the trilogy lies . . . in the characters, whose inner lives and frailties Grossman renders with care and empathy. . . . Quentin[’s] . . . magical journey is deeply human.”
—The New Yorker 
 
“[A] wonderful trilogy. . . . If the Narnia books were like catnip for a certain kind of kid, these books are like crack for a certain kind of adult. . . . Brakebills graduates can have a hard time adjusting to life outside, though some distract themselves by lazily meddling in world affairs (e.g., the election of 2000). Readers of Mr. Grossman’s mesmerizing trilogy might experience the same kind of withdrawal upon finishing The Magician’s Land. Short of wishing that a fourth book could suddenly appear by magic, there’s not much we can do about it.” 
—Sarah Lyall, The New York Times 

“Grossman makes it clear in the deepening complexity and widening scope of each volume that he understands the pleasures and perils of stories and believing in them. . . . The Magician's Land triumphantly answers the essential questions at the heart of the series, about whether magic belongs to childhood alone, whether reality trumps fantasy, even whether we have the power to shape our own lives in an indifferent universe.” 
—Gwenda Bond, The Los Angeles Times 

 
“A wholly satisfying and stirring conclusion to this weird and wonderful tale. . . . Relentlessly subversive and inventive. . . . Grossman can . . . write like a magician. . . . [He] reminds us that good writing can beguile the senses, imagination and intellect. The door at the back of the book is still there, and we can go back to those magical lands, older and wiser, eager for the re-enchantment.” 
—Keith Donohue, The Washington Post 
 
“A huge part of the pleasure of this trilogy in general and this volume in particular is that, even as we consume the story just to find out what happens to Quentin, we know that we are collaborating in our own versions of its creation, its animation. The reader gets to be a magician, too.” 
—Nancy Klingener, The Miami Herald 
 
“[A] stirring finale to Grossman’s acclaimed trilogy.”
People 
 
The Magician’s Land . . . does all the things you want in a third book: winding up everyone's stories, tying up the loose ends -- and giving you a bit more than you bargained for. . . . Starting very early in Magician's Land, Grossman kicks off a series of escalating magical battles, each more fantastic, taut, and brutal than the last, which comes to a head in the final chapters with a world-shattering Götterdämmerung scene that stands with great war at the climax of The Return of the King. At the same time, Grossman never loses sight of the idea of magic as unknowable and unsystematized, a thread of Borgesian Big Weird that culminates in a beautiful tribute to Borges himself. It's this welding together of adventure-fiction plotstuff and introspective, moody characterization that makes this book, and the trilogy it concludes, so worthy of your reading time, and your re-reading time.

—Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing 

 
“The world of Grossman's ‘Magicians’ series is arrestingly original, joyful and messy. It's so vividly rendered that it's almost disappointing to remember that it doesn't, after all, exist. The overall effect is — well, there's really only one word for it: It's magical.” 
Chicago Tribune
 
“[A] satisfying ending to the series. . . . Saying goodbye to Quentin is bittersweet, but saying goodbye to a Quentin who achieves some peace at last fills the farewell with a reassuring optimism for his future.”
The Boston Globe 
 
“An enchanting conclusion . . . to a series that references C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling while remaining refreshingly original. . . . The Magician’s Land is that rare novel that looks at what happens after the child prodigy grows up and has to get a job. . . . [It] features the return of a character sorely missed by both Quentin and readers alike, as well as Grossman’s trademark witty dialogue.”
—The Christian Science Monitor 
 
“The last (and IOHO, best) book in the hit Magicians trilogy. Savor every word.”
Cosmopolitan

“An explosive conclusion to Quentin Coldwater’s adventures.” 

Entertainment Weekly 

 
“A satisfying finale to the series, while adding depth and shading to the world. . . . Grossman tells exciting fantasy adventures, but at the same time deconstructs the fantasy, as his characters discover that even magical wish-fulfillment is no guarantee of happiness, and even a job casting spells in a magical land is still work.”
A.V. Club (A-) 
 
“When read straight through, the Magicians trilogy reveals its lovely shape. The world of the books wraps around itself, exposing most everything necessary by its conclusion, but occluding operations that we'll never need to see. There's still a series of mysteries and untold tales left unknown deep inside the books.”
—Choire Sicha, The Slate Book Review 
 
“All lovers of Lev Grossman’s first two books of The Magicians trilogy: This is the end, beautiful friend. . . . One of the lovely things about this series is watching Quentin evolve from depressed teen to clear-eyed man. If Grossman raises his kids with the same sympathy with which he parents his literary teen, he’ll be a smashing success. . . . Battle scenes are laid out with vivid, near-storyboard detail. There’s so much excitement as to make the temptation to race ahead a serious danger. . . . Grossman brings the story home on a very satisfying chord. The chorus: We are all magicians. Life, like magic, gives back only as much as you put into it. It takes hard work, it hurts, and you have to be ready to fail. But deep within us all lies the power to enchant the world.”
—Cindy Bagwell, Dallas Morning News 
 

“So you’ve torn through all the volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones), and you’re a little over the whole dystopian young-adult thing. What’s an adventure-minded reader to do for a fat beach book this August? Look no further than Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy.” 
—Sara Stewart, The New York Post 
 
“The very satisfying final book in [Grossman’s] trilogy. . . . This third book, at turns a heist story, a meditation on the act of creation, and an apocalyptic disaster tale, continues the adventures of main character Quentin Coldwater. It mixes genre deconstruction with psychological realism, full of self-aware figures who are cognizant of all the tropes of fantasy fiction, while at the same time working to fulfill those tropes or push against them. There are great swaths of high imagination in The Magician's Land, evocative passages that contain entire worlds. Writing, like magic, is a craft, and Grossman performs it oh so well.”
—Gilbert Cruz, NY1 
 
“In the smash trilogy’s thrilling end, Quentin is cast out of Fillory, the enchanted realm he once ruled. But he’ll risk his life (and make dangerous allies) to save the threatened world.”
US Weekly 
 
“[A] deeply satisfying finale . . . [Grossman’s] characters’ magical battles have a bravura all their own. . . . The essence of being a magician, as Quentin learns to define it, could easily serve as a thumbnail description of Grossman’s art: ‘the power to enchant the world.’”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“An absolutely brilliant fantasy filled with memorable characters—old and new—and prodigious feats of imagination. . . . Endlessly fascinating . . . Fantasy fans will rejoice at its publication.”
Booklist (starred review)
 

“[The Magicians] series taken as a whole brings new life and energy to the fantasy genre. The final volume will please fans looking for action, emotion, and, ultimately, closure.”
Library Journal
 
“An elegantly written third act to Quentin’s bildungsroman. . . . Fans of the trilogy will be pleased.”
Publishers Weekly
 

“If you haven’t read the first two books in Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, buy them immediately and set aside a weekend to read them straight through before you turn to The Magician’s Land. The series, which follows a group of—you guessed it—magicians through the emotional foibles of young adulthood has been called ‘Harry Potter for adults.’ But it’s way more complex than that. Grossman hones in on the particularly brutal business of being young, and then adds layer upon layer of literary allusion, creating works that are both homages to fantasy’s past and glimpses at its future.”

—The New Republic

 
“Sink your mobile devices into the nearest wishing well and duct-tape your front door against gnomes, pollsters, and other distractions. The Magician’s Land is beckoning, and demands your full attention. Lev Grossman proves again that the costs and consolations of creation—both of Fillory and of this conclusion to his trilogy—are mighty forces. Quentin Coldwater, Grossman's Orpheus and his Abraham, his Yahweh and his Puck, enchants as few other magicians can, or dare.”
—Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Egg & Spoon
 
“Lev Grossman has conjured a rare creature: a trilogy that simply gets better and better as it goes along. The Magician's Land is sumptuous and surprising yet deliciously familiar, a glass of rich red wine left out for a hungry ghost. Literary perfection for those of us who grew up testing the structural integrity of the backs of wardrobes.”
—Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus
 
The Magician's Land is a triumphant climax to the best fantasy trilogy of the decade.”
—Charles Stross
 
“Poignant and messy, fearsome and beautiful—like a good magic spell, the final book in this trilogy is more than the sum of its parts. Also, damn. Just some of the best magic I have read, ever.”
—Maggie Stiefvater

Praise for The Magician King
“[A] serious, heartfelt novel [that] turns the machinery of fantasy inside out.”
The New York Times (Editor’s Choice)
 
“A spellbinding stereograph, a literary adventure novel that is also about privilege, power, and the limits of being human. The Magician King is a triumphant sequel.”
—NPR.org
 
“[The Magician King] is The Catcher in the Rye for devotees of alternative universes. It’s dazzling and devil-may-care. . . . Grossman has created a rare, strange, and scintillating novel.”
Chicago Tribune
 
The Magician King is a rare achievement, a book that simultaneously criticizes and celebrates our deep desire for fantasy.”
The Boston Globe
 
“Grossman has devised an enchanted milieu brimming with possibility, and his sly authorial voice gives it a literary life that positions The Magician King well above the standard fantasy fare.”
San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Grossman expands his magical world into a boundless enchanted universe, and his lively characters navigate it with aplomb.”
The New Yorker
 
The Magician King, the immensely entertaining new novel by Lev Grossman, manages to be both deep and deeply enjoyable.”
Chicago Sun-Times
 
“Now that Harry Potter is through in books and films, grown-up fans of the boy wizard might want to give this nimble fantasy series a try.”
New York Post
 
 “Lev Grossman’s The Magician King is a fresh take on the fantasy-quest novel—dark, austere, featuring characters with considerable psychological complexity, a collection of idiosyncratic talking animals (a sloth who knows the path to the underworld, a dragon in the Grand Canal), and splendid set pieces in Venice, Provence, Cornwall, and Brooklyn.”
The Daily Beast
 
“In this page-turning follow-up to his bestselling 2009 novel The Magicians, Grossman takes another dark, sarcastically sinister stab at fantasy, set in the Narnia-esque realm of Fillory.”
Entertainment Weekly 

Praise for The Magicians
 “Fresh and compelling…The Magicians is a great fairy tale, written for grown-ups but appealing to our most basic desires for stories to bring about some re-enchantment with the world, where monsters lurk but where a young man with a little magic may prevail.”
—Washington Post
 
The Magicians is original…slyly funny.”
—USA Today
 
“Lev Grossman’s playful fantasy novel The Magicians pays homage to a variety of sources…with such verve and ease that you quickly forget the references and lose yourself in the story.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
 
The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea. Solidly rooted in the traditions of both fantasy and mainstream literary fiction, the novel tips its hat to Oz and Narnia as well to Harry, but don’t mistake this for a children's book. Grossman’s sensibilities are thoroughly adult, his narrative dark and dangerous and full of twists.  Hogwarts was never like this.”
—George R. R. Martin, bestselling author of A Game of Thrones
 
“Stirring, complex, adventurous…from the life of Quentin Coldwater, his slacker Park Slope Harry Potter, Lev Grossman delivers superb coming of age fantasy.”
—Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize­–winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
 
“I felt like I was poppin’ peyote buttons with J. K. Rowling when I was reading Lev Grossman’s new novel The Magicians.…I couldn’t put it down.”
—Mickey Rapkin, GQ
 
“The novel manages a literary magic trick: it’s both an enchantingly written fantasy and a moving deconstruction of enchantingly realized fantasies.”
—Los Angeles Times
 
“Intriguing, coming-of-age fantasy.”
—Boston Globe (Pick of the Week)
 
The Magicians by Lev Grossman is a very entertaining book; one of those summer page-turners that you wish went on for another six volumes. Grossman takes a good number of the best childhood fantasy books from the last seventy-five years and distills their ability to fascinate into the fan-boy mind of his protagonist, Quentin Coldwater.… There is no doubt that this book is inventive storytelling and Grossman is at the height of his powers.”
—Chicago Sun-Times
 
“Entertaining.”
—People
 
“Lev Grossman’s novel The Magicians may just be the most subversive, gripping, and enchanting fantasy novel I’ve read this century…. Grossman is a hell of a pacer, and the book rips along, whole seasons tossed out in a single sentence, all the boring mortar ground off the bricks, so that the book comes across as a sheer, seamless face that you can’t stop yourself from tumbling down once you launch yourself off the first page. This isn’t just an exercise in exploring what we love about fantasy and the lies we tell ourselves about it—it’s a shit-kicking, gripping, tightly plotted novel that makes you want to take the afternoon off work to finish it.”
—Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
 
“An irresistible storytelling momentum makes The Magicians a great summer book, both thoughtful and enchanting.”
—Salon.com
 
“Sly and lyrical, [The Magicians] captures the magic of childhood and the sobering years beyond.”
—Entertainment Weekly
  
“This gripping novel draws on the conventions of contemporary and classic fantasy novels in order to upend them, and tell a darkly cunning story about the power of imagination itself. [The Magicians is] an unexpectedly moving coming-of-age story.”
—The New Yorker 

Library Journal
06/15/2014
Banished from the magical land of Fillory at the end of 2011's The Magician King, Quentin Coldwater plans to settle into a quiet life teaching at his magical alma mater, Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. His past is not so easily set aside, however, and when he is drawn into a shadowy conspiracy to steal an object that cannot be stolen, of course, it all leads back to his homeland. Quentin will need to seek out former mentors, old friends, and even his lost love if he is going to achieve his goals and save his kingdom. VERDICT From the trilogy's beginnings as a coming-of-age story, it is perhaps inevitable that Quentin will finally have to grow into his own as the series closes. Luckily that doesn't mean we don't get to spend quality time in the marvelous land of make-believe made real, Fillory. While Grossman consciously leans heavily on Narnia and Hogwarts to create a frame of reference, this series taken as a whole brings new life and energy to the fantasy genre. The final volume will please fans looking for action, emotion, and, ultimately, closure. [See Prepub Alert, 2/10/14.]
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-06-05
Deeply satisfying finale to the best-selling fantasy trilogy (The Magicians, 2009; The Magician King, 2011).After being dethroned and exiled from the magical kingdom of Fillory for helping his friend Julia become a demigoddess, Quentin returns to Earth to teach at his alma mater, Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. But when his student Plum stumbles across the school's resident malevolent demon, which Quentin refuses to kill because it was once his lover Alice, they're both thrown out and forced to take a risky freelance magic job. This involves stealing a suitcase that once belonged to Plum's great-grandfather Rupert, one of the five Chatwin siblings whose adventures in Fillory were the subject of best-selling books Plum thinks are fictional—until she opens the suitcase to find Rupert's memoirs. They fill in some blanks about what really happened to the Chatwins in Fillory and provide clues that will help Quentin's old comrades Eliot and Janet, still ruling over Fillory, who have been warned by the ram-god Ember that the land is slowly dying. As in the previous novels, Grossman captures the magic of fantasy books cherished in youth and repurposes it to decidedly adult ends. He slyly alludes to the Harry Potter series and owes a clear debt to J.K. Rowling's great action scenes, though his characters' magical battles have a bravura all their own. But his deepest engagement remains with C.S. Lewis, as Narnia is the obvious prototype for Fillory; the philosophical conclusion Grossman draws from his land's narrowly averted apocalypse is the exact opposite of that offered in Lewis' overbearing Christian allegory. Human emotions and desires balance unearthly powers, especially in the drama of Alice's painful return. A beautiful scene in Fillory's Drowned Garden reconnects Quentin with the innocent, dreaming boy he once was yet affirms the value of the chastened grown-up he has become.The essence of being a magician, as Quentin learns to define it, could easily serve as a thumbnail description of Grossman's art: "the power to enchant the world."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780147516145
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/9/2015
  • Series: Magicians Series, #3
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 111,798

Meet the Author

Lev Grossman

LEV GROSSMAN is the book critic for Time magazine and the author of five novels, including the international bestseller Codex and the New York Times bestselling Magicians trilogy. A graduate of Harvard and Yale, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children.
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Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2014 by Lev Grossman

Chapter 1

The letter had said to meet in a bookstore.

It wasn’t much of a night for it: early March, drizzling and cold but not quite cold enough for snow. It wasn’t much of a bookstore either. Quentin spent fifteen minutes watching it from a bus shelter at the edge of the empty parking lot, rain drumming on the plastic roof and making the asphalt shine in the streetlights. Not one of your charming, quirky bookstores, with a ginger cat on the windowsill and a shelf of rare signed first editions and an eccentric, bewhiskered proprietor behind the counter. This was just another strip-mall outpost of a struggling chain, squeezed in between a nail salon and a party City, twenty minutes outside Hackensack off the New Jersey turnpike.

Satisfied, Quentin crossed the parking lot. The enormous bearded cashier didn’t look up from his phone when the door jingled. Inside you could still hear the noise of cars on the wet road, like long strips of paper tearing, one after another. The only unexpected touch was a wire birdcage in one corner, but where you would have expected a parrot or a cockatoo inside there was a fat blue-black bird instead. That’s how un-charming this store was: it had a crow in a cage.

Quentin didn’t care. It was a bookstore, and he felt at home in bookstores, and he hadn’t had that feeling much lately. he was going to enjoy it. He pushed his way back through the racks of greeting cards and cat calendars, back to where the actual books were, his glasses steaming up and his coat dripping on the thin carpet. It didn’t matter where you were, if you were in a room full of books you were at least halfway home.

The store should have been empty, coming up on nine o’clock on a cold rainy Thursday night, but instead it was full of people. They browsed the shelves silently, each one on his or her own, slowly wandering the aisles like sleepwalkers. a jewel-faced girl with a pixie cut was reading Dante in Italian. a tall boy with large curious eyes who couldn’t have been older than sixteen was absorbed in a tom Stoppard play. a middle-aged black man with elfin cheekbones stood staring at the biographies through thick, iridescent glasses. You would almost have thought they’d come there to buy books. But Quentin knew better.

He wondered if it would be obvious, if he would know right away, or if there would be a trick to it. If they’d make him guess. he was getting to be a pretty old dog—he’d be thirty this year—but this particular game was new to him. At least it was warm inside. He took off his glasses and wiped them with a cloth. he’d just gotten them a couple of months ago, the price of a lifetime of reading fine print, and they were still an unfamiliar presence on his face: a windshield between him and the world, always slip- ping down his nose and getting smudged when he pushed them up again. When he put them back on he noticed a sharp-featured young woman, girl-next-door pretty, if you happened to live next door to a grad student in astrophysics. She was standing in a corner paging through a big, expensive architectural-looking volume. Piranesi drawings: vast shadowy vaults and cellars and prisons, haunted by great wooden engines.

Quentin knew her. Her name was plum. She felt him watching her and looked up, raising her eyebrows in mild surprise, as if to say you’re kidding—you’re in on this thing too?

He shook his head once, very slightly, and looked away, keeping his face carefully blank. Not to say no, I’m not in on this, I just come here for the novelty coffee mugs and their trenchant commentary on the little ironies of everyday life. What he meant was: let’s pretend we don’t know each other.

It was looking like he had some time to kill so he joined the browsers, scanning the spines for something to read. The Fillory books were there, of course, shelved in the young adult section, repackaged and rebranded

with slick new covers that made them look like supernatural romance novels. But Quentin couldn’t face them right now. Not tonight, not here. he took down a copy of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold instead and spent ten contented minutes at a checkpoint in gray 1950s Berlin.

“Attention, Bookbumblers patrons!” the cashier said over the PA, though the store was small enough that Quentin could hear his unamplified voice perfectly clearly. “Attention! Bookbumblers will be closing in five minutes! please make your final selections!”

He put the book back. an old woman in a beret that looked like she’d knitted it herself bought a copy of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and let herself out into the night. So not her. The skinny kid who’d been camped out cross-legged in the graphic novels section, reading them to rags, left without buying anything. So not him either. a tall, bluff- looking guy with Cro-Magnon hair and a face like a stump who’d been furiously studying the greeting cards, pretty clearly overthinking his decision, finally bought one. But he didn’t leave.

At nine o’clock exactly the big cashier closed the door and locked it with a final, fateful jingle, and suddenly Quentin was all nerves. He was on a carnival ride, and the safety bar had dropped, and now it was too late to get off. he took a deep breath and frowned at himself, but the nerves didn’t go away. The bird shuffled its feet in the seeds and drop- pings on the bottom of its cage and squawked once. It was a lonely kind of squawk, the kind you’d hear if you were out by yourself on a rainy moor, lost, with darkness closing in fast.

The cashier walked to the back of the store—he had to excuse himself past the guy with the cheekbones—and opened a gray metal door marked staff only.

“Through here.”

He sounded bored, like he did this every night, which for all Quentin knew he did. Now that he was standing up Quentin could see that he really was huge—six foot four or five and deep-chested. Not pumped, but with broad shoulders and that aura of slow inexorability that naturally enormous men have. his face was noticeably asymmetrical: it bulged out on one side as if he’d been slightly overinflated. He looked like a gourd.

Quentin took the last spot in line. He counted eight others, all of them looking around cautiously and taking exaggerated care not to jostle one another, as if they might explode on contact. he worked a tiny revelation charm to make sure there was nothing weird about the door—he made an OK sign with his thumb and forefinger and held it up to one eye like a monocle.

“No magic,” the cashier said. He snapped his fingers at Quentin. “Guy. hey. No spells. No magic.”

Heads turned. “Sorry?”

Quentin played dumb. Nobody called him Your Majesty anymore, but he didn’t think he was ready to answer to guy yet. He finished his inspection. It was a door and nothing more.

“Cut it out. No magic.”

Pushing his luck, Quentin turned and studied the clerk. Through the lens he could see something small shining in his pocket, a talisman that might have been related to sexual performance. The rest of him shone too, as if he were covered in phosphorescent algae. Weird.

“Sure.” he dropped his hands and the lens vanished. “No problem.” Someone rapped on the windowpane. a face appeared, indistinct through the wet glass. The cashier shook his head, but whoever it was rapped again, harder.

He sighed.

“What the shit.”

He unlocked the front door and after a whispered argument let in a man in his twenties, dripping wet, red-faced but otherwise sportscaster- handsome, wearing a windbreaker that was way too light for the weather. Quentin wondered where he’d managed to get a sunburn in March.

They all filed into the back room. It was darker than Quentin expected, and bigger too; real estate must come cheap out here on the turnpike. There were steel shelves crammed full of books flagged with fluorescent-colored stickies; a couple of desks in one corner, the walls in front of them shingled with shift schedules and taped-up New Yorker cartoons; stacks of cardboard shipping boxes; a busted couch; a busted armchair; a mini-fridge—it must have doubled as the break room. Half of it was just wasted space. The back wall was a steel shutter that opened onto a loading dock.

A handful of other people were coming in through another door in the left-hand wall, looking just as wary. Quentin could see another bookstore behind them, a nicer one, with old lamps and oriental rugs. Probably a ginger cat too. He didn’t need magic to know that it wasn’t a door at all but a portal to somewhere else, some arbitrary distance away. There—he caught a telltale hairline seam of green light along one edge. The only thing behind that wall in reality was party City.

Who were they all? Quentin had heard rumors about dog-and-pony shows like this before, gray-market cattle calls, work for hire, but he’d never seen one himself. He definitely never thought he’d go to one, not in a million years. He never thought it would come to that. Stuff like this was for people on the fringes of the magical world, people scrabbling to get in, or who’d lost their footing somehow and slipped out of the bright warm center of things, all the way out to the cold margins of the real world. All the way out to a strip mall in Hackensack in the rain. Things like this weren’t for people like him.

Except now they were. It had come to that. He was one of them, these were his people. Six months ago he’d been a king in a magic land, an- other world, but that was all over. He’d been kicked out of Fillory, and he’d been kicked around a fair bit since then, and now he was just an- other striver, trying to scramble back in, up the slippery slope, back toward the light and the warmth.

Plum and the man with the iridescent glasses sat on the couch. Red Face took the busted armchair. Pixie Cut and the teenage Stoppard reader sat on boxes. The rest of them stood—there were twelve, thirteen, fourteen in all. The cashier shut the gray door behind them, cutting off the last of the noise from the outside world, and snuffed out the portal. he’d brought the birdcage with him; now he placed it on top of a cardboard box and opened it to let the crow out. It looked around, shaking first one foot then the other the way birds do. “Thank you all for coming,” it said. “I will be brief.”

That was unexpected. Judging from the ripple of surprise that ran through the room, he wasn’t the only one. You didn’t see a lot of talking birds on Earth, that was more of a Fillorian thing.

“I’m looking for an object,” the bird said. “I will need help taking it from its present owners.”

The bird’s glossy feathers shone darkly in the glow of the hanging lights. Its voice echoed in the half-empty stockroom. It was a soft, mild-mannered voice, not hoarse at all like you’d expect from a crow. It sounded incongruously human—however it was producing speech, it had nothing to do with its actual vocal apparatus. But that was magic for you.

“So stealing,” an Indian guy said. Not like it bothered him, he just wanted clarification. He was older than Quentin, forty maybe, balding and wearing an unbelievably bad multicolored wool sweater.

“Theft,” the bird said. “Yes.”

“Stealing back, or stealing?” “What is the difference?”

“I would merely like to know whether we are the bad guys or the good guys. Which of you has a rightful claim on the object?”

The bird cocked its head thoughtfully.

“Neither party has an entirely valid claim,” it said. “But if it makes a difference our claim is superior to theirs.”

That seemed to satisfy the Indian guy, though Quentin wondered if he would have had a problem either way.

“Who are you?” somebody called out. The bird ignored that. “What is the object?” Plum asked.

“You’ll be told after you’ve accepted the job.”

“Where is it?” Quentin asked.

The bird shifted its weight back and forth.

“It is in the northeastern United States of america.” It half spread its wings in what might have been a bird-shrug.

“So you don’t know,” Quentin said. “So finding it is part of the job.”

The bird didn’t deny it. Pixie Cut scooched forward, which wasn’t easy on the broken-backed couch, especially in a skirt that short. Her hair was black with purple highlights, and Quentin noticed a couple of blue star tattoos peeking out of her sleeves, the kind you got in a safe house. He wondered how many more she had underneath. He wondered what she’d done to end up here.

“So we’re finding and we’re stealing and I’m guessing probably doing some fighting in between. What kind of resistance are you expecting?”

“Can you be more specific?”

“Security, how many people, who are they, how scary. Is that specific enough?”

“Yes. We are expecting two.”

“Two magicians?”

“Two magicians, plus some civilian staff. Nothing out of the ordinary, as far as I know.”

“As far as you know!” The red-faced man guffawed loudly. he seemed on further examination to be a little insane.

“I do know that they have been able to place an incorporate bond on the object. The bond will have to be broken, obviously.”

A stunned silence followed this statement, then somebody made an exasperated noise. The tall man who’d been shopping for greeting cards snorted as if to say can you believe this shit?

“Those are supposed to be unbreakable,” plum said coolly. “You’re wasting our time!” Iridescent Glasses said.

“An incorporate bond has never been broken,” the bird said, not at all bothered—or were its feathers just slightly ruffled? “But we believe that it is theoretically possible, with the right skills and the right resources. We have all the skills we need in this room.”

“What about the resources?” pixie Cut asked. “The resources can be obtained.”

“So that’s also part of the job,” Quentin said. He ticked them off on his fingers. “Obtaining the resources, finding the object, breaking the bond, taking the object, dealing with the current owners. Correct?”

“Yes. Payment is two million dollars each, cash or gold. A hundred thousand tonight, the rest once we have the object. Make your decisions now. Bear in mind that if you say no you will find yourself unable to discuss tonight’s meeting with anyone else.”

Satisfied that it had made its case, the bird fluttered up to perch on top of its cage.

It was more than Quentin had expected. There were probably easier and safer ways in this world for a magician to earn two million dollars, but there weren’t many that were this quick, or that were right in front of him. Even magicians needed money sometimes, and this was one of those times. He had to get back into the swim of things. He had work to do.

“If you’re not interested, please leave now,” the cashier said. evidently He was the bird’s lieutenant. He might have been in his mid-twenties. His black beard covered his chin and neck like brambles.

The Cro-Magnon guy stood up.

“Good luck.” he turned out to have a thick German accent. “You gonna need this, huh?”

He skimmed the greeting card into the middle of the room and left.

It landed face up: get well soon. Nobody picked it up.

About a third of the room shuffled out with him, off in search of other pitches and better offers. Maybe this wasn’t the only show in town tonight. But it was the only one Quentin knew about, and he didn’t leave. He watched Plum, and Plum watched him. She didn’t leave either. They were in the same boat—she must be scrabbling too.

The red-faced guy stood against the wall by the door.

“See ya!” he said to each person as they passed him. “Buh-bye!” When everybody who was going to leave had left the cashier closed the

door again. They were down to eight: Quentin, Plum, pixie, red Face, Iridescent Glasses, the teenager, the Indian guy, and a long-faced woman in a flowing dress with a lock of white hair over her forehead; the last two had come in through the other door. The room felt even quieter than it had before, and strangely empty.

“Are you from Fillory?” Quentin asked the bird.

That got some appreciative laughter, though he wasn’t joking, and the bird didn’t laugh. It didn’t answer him either. Quentin couldn’t read its face; like all birds, it had only one expression.

“Before we go any further each of you must pass a simple test of magical strength and skill,” the bird said. “Lionel here”—it meant the cashier—“is an expert in probability magic. Each of you will play a hand of cards with him. If you beat him you will have passed the test.” There were some disgruntled noises at this new revelation, followed by another round of discreet mutual scoping-out. From the reaction

Quentin gathered that this wasn’t standard practice.

“What’s the game?” Plum asked.

“The game is push.”

“You must be joking,” Iridescent Glasses said, disgustedly. “You really don’t know anything, do you?”

Lionel had produced a pack of cards and was shuffling and bridging it fluently, without looking, his face blank.

“I know what I require,” the bird said stiffly. “I know that I am offering a great deal of money for it.”

“Well, I didn’t come here to play games.” The man stood up.

“Well why the fuck did you come here?” pixie asked brightly. “You may leave at any time,” the bird said.

“Maybe I will.”

he walked to the door, pausing with his hand on the knob, as if he were expecting somebody to stop him. Nobody did. The door shut after him.

Quentin watched Lionel shuffle. The man obviously knew how to handle a deck; the cards leapt around obligingly in his large hands, neatly and cleanly, the way they did for a pro. He thought about the entrance exam he’d taken to get into Brakebills, what was it, thirteen years ago now? He hadn’t been too proud to take a test then. He sure as hell wasn’t now.

And he used to be a bit of a pro at this himself. Cards were stage magic, close-up magic. This was where he started out.

“All right,” Quentin said. he got up, flexing his fingers. “Let’s do it.”

he dragged a desk chair over noisily and sat down opposite Lionel. As a courtesy Lionel offered him the deck. Quentin took it.

He stuck to a basic shuffle, trying not to look too slick. The cards were stiff but not brand new. They had the usual industry-standard anti-manipulation charms on them, nothing he hadn’t seen before. It felt good to have them in his hands. He was back on familiar ground. Without being obvious about it, he got a look at a few face cards and put them where they wouldn’t go to waste. It had been a while, a long while, but this was a game he knew something about. Back in the day push had been a major pastime among the physical Kids.

It was a childishly simple game. Push was a lot like War—high card wins—with some silly added twists to break ties (toss cards into a hat; once you get five in, score it like a poker hand; etc.). But the rules weren’t the point; the point of push was to cheat. There was a lot of strange magic in cards: a shuffled deck wasn’t a fixed thing, it was a roiling cloud of possibilities, and nothing was ever certain till the cards were actually played. It was like a box with a whole herd of Schrödinger’s cats in it. With a little magical know-how you could alter the order in which your cards came out; with a little more you could guess what your opponent was going to play before she played it; with a bit more you could play cards that by all the laws of probability rightfully belonged to your opponent, or in the discard pile, or in some other deck entirely.

Quentin handed back the cards, and the game began.

They started slow, trading off low cards, easy tricks, both holding serve. Quentin counted cards automatically, though there was a limit to how much good it could do—when magicians played the cards had a way of changing sides, and cards you thought were safely deceased and out of play had a way of coming back to life. He’d been curious what caliber of talent got involved in these kinds of operations, and he was revising his estimates sharply upward. It was obvious he wasn’t going to overwhelm Lionel with brute force.

Quentin wondered where he’d trained. Brakebills, probably, same as

he had; there was a precise, formal quality to his magic that you didn’t see coming out of the safe houses. Though there was something else too: it had a cold, sour, alien tang to it—Quentin could almost taste it. he wondered if Lionel was quite as human as he looked.

There were twenty-six tricks in a hand of push, and halfway through neither side had established an advantage. But on the fourteenth trick Quentin overreached—he burned some of his strength to force a king to the top of his deck, only to waste it on a deuce from Lionel. The mismatch left him off balance, and he lost the next three tricks in a row. He clawed back two more by stealing cards from the discard pile, but the preliminaries were over. From here on out it was going to be a dogfight.

The room narrowed to just the table. It had been a while since Quentin had seen his competitive spirit, but it was rousing itself from its long slumber. He wasn’t going to lose this thing. That wasn’t going to happen. He bore down. He could feel Lionel probing, trying to shove cards around within the unplayed deck, and he shoved back. They blew all four aces in as many tricks, all-out, hammer and tongs. For kicks Quentin split his concentration and used a simple spell to twitch the sex amulet out of Lionel’s pocket and onto the floor. But if that distracted Lionel he didn’t show it.

Probability fields began to fluctuate crazily around them—invisible, but you could see secondary effects from them in the form of minor but very unlikely chance occurrences. Their hair and clothes stirred in impalpable breezes. A card tossed to one side might land on its edge and balance there, or spin in place on one corner. A mist formed above the table, and a single flake of snow sifted down out of it. The onlookers backed away a few steps. Quentin beat a jack of hearts with the king, then lost the next trick with the exact same cards reversed. He played a deuce—and Lionel swore under his breath when he realized he was somehow holding the extra card with the rules of poker on it.

Reality was softening and melting in the heat of the game. On the second-to-last trick Lionel played the queen of spades, and Quentin frowned—did her face look the slightest bit like Julia’s? Either way there was no such thing as a one-eyed queen, let alone one with a bird on her shoulder. He spent his last king against it, or he thought he did: when he laid it down it had become a jack, a suicide jack at that, which again there was no such card, especially not one with white hair like his own.

Even Lionel looked surprised. Something must be twisting the cards—it was like there was some invisible third player at the table who was toying with both of them. With his next and last card it became clear that Lionel had lost all control over his hand because he turned over a queen of no known suit, a Queen of Glass. Her face was translucent cellophane, sapphire-blue. It was Alice, to the life.

“What the shit,” Lionel said, shaking his head.

What the shit was right. Quentin clung to his nerve. The sight of Alice’s face shook him, it froze his gut, but it also stiffened his resolve. It reminded him what he was doing here. He was not going to panic. In fact he was going to take advantage of this—Alice was going to help him. The essence of close-up magic is misdirection, and with Lionel distracted Quentin pulled a king of clubs out of his boot with numb fingers and slapped it down. He tried to ignore the gray suit the king wore, and the branch that was sprouting in front of his face.

It was over. Game and match. Quentin sat back and took a deep, shaky breath.

“Good,” the bird said simply. “Next.”

Lionel didn’t look happy, but he didn’t say anything either, just crouched down and collected his amulet from under the table. Quentin got up and went to stand against the wall with others, his knees weak, his heart still racing, revving past the red line.

He was happy to get out of the game with a win, but he’d thought he would. He hadn’t thought he’d see his long-lost ex-girlfriend appear on a face card. What just happened? Maybe someone here knew more about him than they should. Maybe they were trying to throw him off his game. But who? Who would bother? Nobody cared if he won or lost, not anymore. As far as he knew the only person who cared right now was Quentin.

Maybe he was doing it himself—maybe his own subconscious was

Reaching up from below and warping his spellwork. Or was it Alice herself, wherever she was, whatever she was, watching him and having a little fun? Well, let her have it. He was focused on the present, that was what mattered. he had work to do. He was getting his life back together. The past had no jurisdiction here. Not even Alice.

The red-faced guy won his game with no signs of anything out of the ordinary. So did the Indian guy. The woman with the shock of white hair went out early, biting her lip as she laid down a blatantly impossible five deuces in a row, followed by a joker, then a Go Directly to Jail! Card from MonopolyThe kid got a bye for some reason—the bird didn’t make him play at all. Plum got a bye too. Pixie passed faster than any of them, either because she was that strong or because Lionel was getting tired.

When it was all over Lionel handed the woman who’d lost a brick of hundred-dollar bills for her trouble. he handed another one to the red- faced man.

“Thank you for your time,” the bird said.

“Me?” The man stared down at the money in his hand. “But I passed!”

“Yes,” Lionel said. “But you got here late. And you seem like kind of an asshole.”

The man’s face got even redder than it already was.

“Go ahead,” Lionel said. He spread his arms. “Make a move.”

The man’s face twitched, but he wasn’t so angry or so crazy that he couldn’t read the odds.

“Fuck you!” he said.

That was his move. He slammed the door behind him.

Quentin dropped into the armchair the man had just vacated, even though it was damp from his wet windbreaker. He felt limp and wrung out. He hoped the testing was over with, he wouldn’t have trusted himself to cast anything right now. Counting him there were only five left: Quentin, Plum, Pixie, the Indian guy, and the kid.

This all seemed a hell of a lot more real than it had half an hour ago. It wasn’t too late, he could still walk away. He hadn’t seen any deal-breakers yet, but he hadn’t seen a lot to inspire confidence either. This could be his way back in, or it could be the road to somewhere even worse. He’d spent enough time already on things that went nowhere and left him with nothing. He could walk out, back into the rainy night, back into the cold and the wet.

But he didn’t. It was time to turn things around. He was going to make this work. It wasn’t like he had a lot of better offers.

“You think this is going to be enough?” Quentin asked the bird. “Just five of us?”

“Six, with Lionel. And yes. In fact I would say that it is exactly right.” “Well, don’t keep us in suspense,” Pixie said. “What’s the target?”

The bird didn’t keep them in suspense.

“The object we are looking for is a suitcase. Brown leather, average size, manufactured 1937, monogrammed RCJ. The make is Louis Vuitton.”

It actually had a pretty credible French accent. “Fancy,” she said. “What’s in it?”

“I do not know.”

“You don’t know?” It was the first time the teenage boy had spoken. “Why the hell do you want it then?”

“In order to find out.”

“Huh. What do the initials stand for?” “Rupert John Chatwin,” the bird said crisply. The kid looked confused. His lips moved.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “Wouldn’t the come last?”

“It’s a monogram, dumbass,” pixie said. “The last name goes in the middle.”

The Indian guy was rubbing his chin.

“Chatwin.” he was trying to place the name. “Chatwin. But isn’t that—?”

It sure is, Quentin thought, though he didn’t say anything. he didn’t move a muscle. It sure as hell is.

Chatwin: that name chilled him even more than the night and the rain and the bird and the cards had. By rights he should have gone the rest of his life without hearing it again. It had no claim on him anymore, and vice versa. He and the Chatwins were through.

Except it seemed that they weren’t. He’d said good-bye and buried them and mourned them—the Chatwins, Fillory, plover, Whitespire— but there must still be some last invisible unbroken strand connecting them to him. Something deeper than mourning. The wound had healed, but the scar wouldn’t fade, not quite. Quentin felt like an addict who’d just caught the faintest whiff of his drug of choice, the pure stuff, after a long time sober, and he felt his imminent relapse coming on with a mixture of despair and anticipation.

That name was a message—a hot signal flare shot up into the night, sent specifically for him, across time and space and darkness and rain, all the way from the bright warm center of the world.

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