Title: A Lion Among Men by Gregory MaGuire
Summary (off Goodreads): While civil war looms in Oz, a tetchy oracle named Yackle prepares for death. Before her final hour, a figure known as Brrr the Cowardly Lion arrives searching for information about Elphaba Thropp, the Wicked Witch of the West. Abandoned as a cub, his path from infancy is no Yellow Brick Road. In the wake of laws that oppress talking Animals, he avoids a jail sentence by agreeing to serve as a lackey to the warmongering Emperor of Oz.
A Lion Among Men chronicles a battle of wits hastened by the Emerald City's approaching armies. Can those tarnished by infamy escape their sobriquets to claim their own histories, to live honorably within their own skins before they're skinned alive?
I have read a lot of Gregory Maguire’s books and some I’ve enjoyed and some have been really terrible. He’s one of those authors that is really hit or miss. Luckily, A Lion Among Men was a hit and one of the first of this series.
The first book of Maguire’s that I ever read was Wicked and, while it started out very promising, ended on a more sour note. I had also heard negative reviews about the sequel to Wicked and never ended up reading it. So when I picked this book up, the story of the Cowardly Lion, I did so with a lot of trepidation. It would be the fourth book of his that I read and out of the previous three, I liked one and a half of them.
The story of Brr (or the Cowardly Lion as we all know him) was actually everything I was hoping his other retellings would be like. It took a story I knew well and just told me WHY it ended up that way. Brr wasn’t cowardly because he was born that was but more because society and life made him that way. He was taken from him mother at birth and hid in the woods all his life, trying to survive.
It wasn’t much better when he was integrated into society. He lived in the world with humans but was always looked upon suspiciously. He was and Animal and therefore he had no rights, no say, no anything because he wasn’t a human being. There was war all around him because of the fight for Animals.
When he went and stayed with the Tigers, found someone he liked, possibly even loved, it turns out she might have been using him all along. She didn’t want to rule her people, didn’t want to have to be the one to take her father’s place. And so, by mating with Brr, she made it so that she wouldn’t be able to have children because the two of them were incompatible.
He was a lion that took blows like that all of his life until his only option was to do what the state told him. It was ironic that this Animal that had run from everything his entire life, his only option in the end was to not run. He had to meet things head on and get the whole story or he would have no freedom to do anything.
The execution of the book was wonderful, just the right pace, which was nice because sometimes Maguire’s pace can drag. I love that he pulled all of Oz’s history and current politics into and added just the right amount of mystery and magic. I recommend this to all who love fairy tales and any who have be doubtful of Maguire’s work in the past; this is easily his best.
You can read this review and all others at im_writing or my Goodreads account.
Books so far this year: 5
Currently Reading: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson and The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown