Title: The Magician King
Author: Lev Grossman
Review: The Magician King was a fucking awesome book.
Honestly, that’s all I really want to say about it… but of course that’s not a real review. But that is the gushing, giddy, and inarticulate assessment that I gave to the boyfriend when he asked what I thought of the book the moment after I finished reading it on our Thanksgiving road trip.
The Magician King starts a few years after the concluding scenes of Grossman’s first book in the series, The Magicians. I don’t think there’s any way to read The Magician King without first reading The Magicians. In fact, you might even need to do a re-read first — Grossman doesn’t spend any time getting the reader caught up. If The Magician King hadn’t been so insanely awesome, that fact might bug me… but it doesn’t at all.
At the opening of The Magician King, our anti-hero Quentin Coldwater seems to have everything he ever wanted — he’s a magician king in the magical land of Fillory, a Narnia-like kingdom that Quentin has loved since his childhood. Two of his co-regents are fellow graduates of Brakebills, a secret magicians college that was featured heavily in The Magicians.
The fourth ruler of Fillory is Julia, a friend of Quentin’s from high school who didn’t make it into Brakebills but found her magic another way — the dark and dangerous world of the underground magic scene.
When a standard morning hunt turns sinister, Quentin and Julia charter a magical ship to explore the outreaches of Fillory. Instead, he and Julia end up back in Earth, on a quest to get back to Fillory. While on Earth, Quentin and the reader learn the truly amazing story of how Julia found her magic, and the major sacrifices she made to get there. Julia’s story is probably the best part of this book. Reading it is almost like revisiting Quentin’s story from The Magicians, except that Julia had to work so, so much harder than Quentin ever did to get what she wants. Her story is gritty and dark and sad and scary and awesome.
I think the big question The Magicians tried to ask was what happens if magic (or, getting what you’ve always wanted) doesn’t make you happy? It’s an interesting question, especially given how much fantasy relies on the idea that magic makes everything better, but it’s not a question that offers an especially nuanced answer for Quentin. When magic fails to make life better, he goes on a journey to see if it will and faces the dire consequences of that decision, but never really grows up. And in many ways, The Magicians felt uncomfortable with the question, trying to celebrate and deconstruct fantasy at the same time.
The Magician King answers a more mature and complicated question: what if being a hero isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be? What if you grow and learn to do the right thing, but you end up losing anyway? That sort of question seems to let Grossman more comfortably celebrate the fantasy he loves while still poking fun at some of the conventions and simultaneously lets Quentin grow into a person who is a lot more interesting to read about. The Magician King is Quentin growing up, at least partially, which is awesome.
And the ending! Oh my gosh! I was satisfied and angry and happy and sad all at the same time. And, Grossman did this amazing thing where I felt both totally happy with where the book stopped and totally ready to read the final book in the trilogy. Just… fucking awesome.
The Magician King might be my favorite fiction read of 2011. Get this book and read it (after you read The Magicians) — I am willing to bet you won’t be disappointed.
Other Reviews: Necromancy Never Pays |
If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!