The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Rating 8.7/10
A solid continuation of the Magicians series.

Nothing is ever as it seems

Quentin Coldwater is king of the bizarre and wonderful land of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are losing their appeal and Quentin is getting restless. Even in heaven a man needs a little adventure. So when a steward is murdered on a morning's hunt that is exactly what Quentin gets. But this quest is like no other. What starts as a flight of fancy, a glorified cruise to faraway lands, soon becomes the stuff of nightmares when Quentin is unceremoniously dumped at his parent's house in a decidedly un-magical suburb in Massachusetts.

Back in this grey reality, Quentin has never wanted his magical kingdom more. Fortunately he is accompanied by his old friend Julia, who learned her own brand of black and twisted magic outside Brakebills College at an illegal, underground school in the real world. As they struggle through the paranormal alleyways, past Venetian dragons and fairytale houses, it becomes clear that only Julia's black arts can save them. But there is a greater power at work, one that is threatening to destroy Fillory forever, and to defeat it they must unravel the secrets of Julia's tragic past, and the terrible pact she made to gain her power.

The Magicians, which I first read in 2009, was a real highlight of that year for me. I made it Book of the Month on this very site, so much did I enjoy it and I still hold to the claim I made then that few books have reminded me quite so evocatively of what it was like to be a teenager. So I had been anticipating the follow up, The Magician King, for quite some time, even going so far as to request a review copy (which is a rarity nowadays as I am submerged under review copies) and was excited when it arrived and began reading it almost immediately. I finished the book in pretty short order (which is in itself a good sign) but this was now a number of months ago. You see, my feelings on the book were, and still are, rather jumbled. I'll get this out of the way straight away - I did enjoy The Magician King but not to the same extent as its predecessor, it just didn't seem to immerse me in the same way. So this review is an attempt to bring clarity to my feelings.

The book has two main narratives, one that follows Quentin and companions (including Julia) and one that recounts Julia's past. The first I struggled with, the second I loved. Let's start with Quentin, who finds himself bored and listless in the magical kingdom of Fillory. Here I will give the author a back-handed compliment if ever there was one in that so strongly did Grossman bring across Quentin's emotions that I found myself mirroring them. I found myself experiencing a strange kind of restlessness which echoed those described by the bored and listless Quentin. I felt that there was something else that I should really be doing. It was a feeling that I just couldn't shake and for obvious reasons this detracted from the reading experience. As Quentin was wondering what the point to everything was, so was I.

But then there was Julia's story, taking us back to the time when she failed to gain entry into the magical college at Brakebills, and then it went on to show just how she managed to still become a powerful sorceress, by visiting underground schools and learning a type of "street magic". This was a brilliant story, at turns clever and powerful, and it was these chapters that really kept me reading on, wanting to learn more. This was the real driving force of the story.

Also, while attempting to uncover further reasons why the second book did not work for me in the same way the first did it came to mind that it might just be because Brakebills played no more than a bit part in proceedings. I think this is akin to having a Harry Potter story without Hogwarts - people want and expect it be there because it is not only a place they want to read about, it is also a place they actually want to go to. Wish-fulfilment plays a massive role in the very best fantasy books and I believe that Brakebills was a major reason why the first book was such a success. Grossman gave us another Hogwarts, another Hobbiton, a place where we would happily live out our lives and without it the sense of magic seems to rather diminish.

Would I recommend The Magician King? Yes, but I would add the caveat that you might, like me, not enjoy it quite as much as the first book. But it is worth reading for Julia's story alone. I would love to know what others who have read this book feel, and if they think I have been fair in my appraisal. Please leave a mini-review below and let me know.

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The Magician King reader reviews

from Charlottesville, VA

9-stars

I actually liked the Magician King better than the first book. I agree the chapters which brought Julia up to the present were absolutely captivating. I could never bring myself to like Quentin - he was such a jerk in The Magicians that I wanted to wring his neck and had to put the book down sometimes. I suspect we might be reflecting an age difference - I haven't been Brakebills age in way too long to be nostalgic about that kind of angst. I just finished MK and wouldn''t characterize Julia's art as 'black and twisted' nor do I feel she 'made a terrible pact ... to gain her power.' She struck me as much more serious about magic than Quentin. I loved Q's reaction to the safe house scene - what an Ivory Tower prude. Anyway, I enjoyed both books, would probably reread the first to nail the details and will definitely reread MK. Thanks for your review.

8.9/10 from 2 reviews

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