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Review: ‘The Magician King’ by Lev Grossman

Review: ‘The Magician King’ by Lev Grossman post image

Title: The Magician King
Author: Lev Grossman
Genre: Fiction
Year: 2011
Acquired: Library
Rating: ★★★★★

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!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Stephanie December 13, 2011, 8:36 am

    I love the way you started off your review because it can be so difficult for me to articulate why I loved a book–that seems straight to the point! I have yet to read The Magicians, so I suppose I should get on that!

    • Kim December 14, 2011, 7:54 pm

      I sometimes think it’s harder to write about books we love than it is to write about books we hate, at least articulately 🙂

  • Tanya Patrice December 13, 2011, 10:49 am

    I’m almost finished reading this book now and I so wish we could discuss it because I’m not sure I’m really loving it. I don’t like how they just get handed everything by random characters who pop up when they need a problem solved. I’ll post my discussion in a few weeks – but I absolutely love your review. You’re giving me a different way to look at things as I finish up the book 🙂

    • Kim December 14, 2011, 7:56 pm

      See, I think that happening is one of the ways Grossman is playing around with the idea of fantasy — those sorts of improbable helpers often come up in fantasy books (as I remember) — and by having them here (and having the characters comment on them), Grossman is just playing around. That’s my thought, anyway 🙂

  • Care December 13, 2011, 10:57 am

    I’m just laughing at your one (first) sentence. YOWZA. I’ll read the two books then. Off to add to my tbr.

    • Kim December 14, 2011, 7:57 pm

      I hope you love them 🙂

  • Brooks December 13, 2011, 11:03 am

    I liked The Magicians much better than The Magician King, but I agree that the ending was kind of perfect.

    • Kim December 14, 2011, 7:58 pm

      Wasn’t it? I was cheering and booing all at the same time.

  • christa @ mental foodie December 13, 2011, 11:30 pm

    I wasn’t interested in this series at all. But now after your review, I felt like I have to read it! Do you know how many books will there be in this series?

    • Kim December 14, 2011, 7:58 pm

      I think it’s going to be a trilogy, but I can’t point to where I read that. I don’t know anything about the third book either.

  • Kailana December 14, 2011, 12:00 pm

    I really need to get to reading The Magicians. I have heard so many good things about it and its sequel!

    • Kim December 14, 2011, 7:59 pm

      I liked them both a lot 🙂 I hope you won’t be disappointed!

  • Belle Wong December 14, 2011, 2:22 pm

    I’ve been hesitant to read The Magicians, but I think I’ll be adding it to the 2012 tbr pile – because now I’ve got to read The Magician King!

    • Kim December 14, 2011, 8:02 pm

      I’ve read mixed reviews of The Magicians, but I really liked it. But this one, wow, blew me away.

  • softdrink December 14, 2011, 6:38 pm

    Nope, not gonna do it, despite what you say. I just can’t bring myself to reread The Magicians, so I’ll just have to continue on in ignorance.

    • Kim December 14, 2011, 8:02 pm

      Lol! If you hated The Magicians then this one probably won’t redeem it, but I liked the first one!

  • Jeanne December 15, 2011, 7:04 am

    I really enjoy other peoples’ inarticulate gushing about this book, because I loved it very much, too. https://necromancyneverpays.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/the-magician-king/

    • Kim December 17, 2011, 11:10 am

      Oh yay, we agree on a book! I remember your review of this on — it was good!

  • Aarti December 15, 2011, 10:48 pm

    Wow, you had me at the first sentence, even though you didn’t think that was a good enough review 😉

    • Kim December 17, 2011, 11:10 am

      Lol, thanks. I hope you like it too!

  • Trisha December 16, 2011, 1:36 pm

    I still haven’t read the first, but it’s definitely on my list of books to read soon. Have you nominated it for the ILA’s Spec Fic? 🙂

    • Kim December 17, 2011, 11:10 am

      Duh, of course, I am going to do that. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Jenny December 17, 2011, 9:01 am

    It’s a trilogy? I thought it was just these two. I wouldn’t mind a trilogy though! I liked The Magicians just okayish, but then totally loved The Magician King. I’d be interested to see what happens next.

    • Kim December 17, 2011, 11:15 am

      I thought so? Now I can’t find where I read that. I’m really curious to find out what happens next, although the way the book ended I’m ok with not knowing too.

  • Jami Zehr January 26, 2012, 6:36 pm

    I loved these two books. I’m glad I actually didn’t find out about them until the second book was about to come out because I read them together in rapid succession and that was delightful. Personally, my favorite was The Magician King, which is unusual as I generally like the first book in any number of series the best. Not so with these two books. I loved Julia’s story. I related to her struggles to get what she wanted far more so than I had ever related to Quinten’s childhood growing up with Yuppies and getting magic handed to him on a silver platter.

    I wrote a review here: http://absurdlynerdly.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/review-the-magician-king/

    • Kim January 29, 2012, 6:21 pm

      They are fun to read right after each other! I expect to do a big read-a-thon when the third book comes out. I usually like first books better too, so this was an awesome surprise.