As the third book in a series, A Lion Among Men is a bad book: its timeline is mostly contemporaneous with the previous two books and it fails to appreciably move the overall plot forward; Liir and company from the previous book don’t even appear in this one. Thinking of it as a companion book instead--concerned with filling in the backstory of characters who otherwise get short shrift--it works somewhat better, although there are still significant problems.
The frame story is set nine years after Son of a Witch. Brrr, the Cowardly Lion, tries to interview the elderly Yackle, hoping for a clue that will help him find the Grimmerie. Most of the book, though, is spent in the past, mostly Brrr’s past. Unfortunately, Brrr is the most passive, unappealing protagonist I’ve seen in ages. He makes the famously dull Liir look like a man of passion and conviction (I’m not kidding). He’s not even cowardly so much as lazy and apathetic, and his past is more dull than traumatic, filled with aimless wandering about Oz. Even the persecution and killing of talking Animals that we learn about in previous books barely affects him; society’s worst attack on Brrr is in the form of unpleasant editorial cartoons.
Fortunately, the book does feature a couple of much more interesting characters, although they get less page time than Brrr. Yackle, who annoyed me in Wicked, turns out to be more intriguing and entertaining that I could have anticipated, even though her role in the first book still doesn’t make much sense. And Nor reappears, with quite a story to tell, although we never do hear most of it (not in the next book, either).
This book does feel more like a complete novel than Son of a Witch; it’s better-structured and draws less heavily on Wicked, although it doesn’t bring enough new to the table to be worth reading for its own sake. It’s fairly well-written, but not well enough to redeem the endless trekking about Oz that plagues all the Wicked sequels. These journeys tend to cover the same physical ground covered in Wicked; but where the one lengthy journey in Wicked actually had a purpose beyond transportation (Elphaba’s emotional journey was at least as important as her physical one), they don’t here, unless the point is to showcase Brrr’s aimlessness. I can tolerate this sort of thing from a writer like George R.R. Martin, who writes consistently complex characters and great visual imagery, but from Maguire it’s a bit much.
In the end, this book didn’t annoy me as much as a 2-star rating normally indicates--since I went in knowing what to expect--but it doesn’t have much to say for itself, either. If you just want to know how this series finishes, you can probably skip straight to Out of Oz, which reminds readers of the important stuff anyway.