Book Review: A Lion Among Men

Synopsis according to GoodReads:
"In this much-anticipated third volume of the Wicked Years, we return to Oz, seen now through the eyes of the Cowardly Lion - the once tiny cub defended by Elphaba in Wicked. While civil war looms, a tetchy oracle named Yackle prepares for death. Before her final hour, an enigmatic figure known as Brrr - the Cowardly Lion - arrives searching for information about Elphaba Thropp, the Wicked Witch of the West. As payment, Yackle demands some answers of her own. Brrr surrenders his story: abandoned as a cub, his earliest memories are gluey hazes, and his life's path is no Yellow Brick Road. A Lion Among Men chronicles a battle of wits hastened by the Emerald City's approaching armies. At once a portrait of a would-be survivor and a panoramic glimpse of a world gone shrill with war fever, Gregory Maguire's new novel is written with the sympathy and power that have made his books contemporary classics."

A Lion Among Men is another one of those Gregory Maguire books that I waffled about for the first half, but was compelled to finish reading before the end. I would venture to say that I liked it better than Son of a Witch, except that this novel is pretty slow-paced. It's told mostly in flashbacks, a retrospective on the important events of two characters. So at times it bogs down with its own morality questions.

The Cowardly Lion is at first hateful, then pitiful, as he bumbles through life with a self-centerdness and short-sighted naivety that made me want to throttle him. But his character journey does, like Liir's, eventually come around to decent. Thinking about all of Gregory Maguire's books, I think the only one with a main character who wasn't, for at least half of their life, a horrible person, was Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister.

I can see where the retrospective would be frustrating if you're looking for an escape into fiction. But if you pick this one up and start plodding through it, I promise there's a payoff at the end. There are still loose ends (a fourth novel coming, Mr. Maguire?) but frankly I'd also be happy to leave the rest to my imagination.

It's another nod to political intrigue, but the primary focus is on self-development, how we become moral creatures (or how we justify our morals, at any rate), and the nature of Fate/Coincidence.

I definitely recommend it for anyone who has read the rest of the series in any amount. Not much is going to make sense if you didn't read Son of a Witch, at least. 

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