The Magicians trilogy could be subtitled with the phrase: "The Terrors and Virtues of Getting What You Want". It seems that having the power to alter the physical world to your wishes with magic had a detrimental effect on the overall happiness of magicians. Some fare better than others, but we've had a front row seat to the personal struggles of Quentin Coldwater for three books now and finally we get to more of the virtues than the terrors.
The first part of the book is a rather strange magical briefcase heist scenario, followed up by a more familiar adventure in Fillory. As all the threads start to come together, we get into some of Deep Magic mentioned in previous books and have to untangle some of the knots of how magic interacts with gods of these multiple dimensions. Quentin even manages to work some big magic of his own, genuinely breathtaking concepts of magic. He's a hardened magical veteran now and we get to appreciate this through the eyes of co-protagonist Plum, a student kicked out of Brakebills for a prank gone wrong. Looking through younger eyes at the now age 30 Quentin, we can see how far he's come from a depressed, selfish child.
Our other characters get some real development time as well. Eliot and Janet face hard choices while leading Fillory, transitioning from playing royalty like a child's game to laying down their lives for the future of the land. A general theme of our characters this book is losing their self-delusions and coming to terms with the people they are and who they want to be. We hear more about the original Chatwin children too, and about the circumstaces in Fillory that led to the events of the first book. I'm glad to have this backstory, but the book inside a book narrative was a weak section.
Reading back over this review, it jumps around a little bit. The book does a similar thing moving more freely between worlds and characters than the previous installments. But if I had to pick a primary even that the book revolves around, it's Quentin casting the most powerful magic we've seen and creating his own land. A private dimension sprung from his mind. Conceptually, creating his own dimension is very in line with Quentin's ambitions from the previous books. A place for Quetin to escape to that he'll finally be happy in, even when magical Fillory couldn't satisfy him. But in pracice, Quetin's land provides him with the tools and area for the largest contributions to his character.
As the book resolves, we get to see Quentin truly create and heal a land which is a good parallel for Quetin cultivating a healthy adult lifestyle reconciled with his magical adventures. The book (and series) ends on a calm note, a little more cliche and happy than what I had come to expect over the previous books. But overall my faith in Quentin for three volumes has finally been rewarded and I was able to leave him happy.