Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Magician King Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Lev Grossman
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Magicians Book Two
Pages: 400

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(Spoilers for The Magicians are below).

You can expect more of the same with Lev Grossman’s sequel, The Magician King: cold condescending humor, a bleak outlook on living life, and the jarring juxtaposition between children’s fantasy and adult realities.  Returning to Fillory, and even Earth for a time being, Quentin Coldwater and the other kings and queens of Fillory are whisked away on a new adventure, one that challenges a lot of the thought constructs that are frequently found in fantasy stories.

I found the sequel to be a little less sentimental than the previous book, which is why I prefer The Magicians over The Magician King. Both are excellent books, though, and fans of the first book will thoroughly enjoy this one, too.

A few years after the conclusion of The Magicians, Quentin, Janet, Eliot, and Julia rule over Fillory as its four kings and queens.  Quentin is stilled troubled by his confrontation with Martin Chatwin and the death of Alice.  However, his longtime crush Julia is now ruling in Fillory beside him, but her time apart from Quentin is shrouded in mystery, and has turned her into a stranger.  Growing bored with their drunken lifestyles, Quentin and his friends embark on a quest which turns out to be much more important than they originally thought.

The emotional heavy lifting in The Magician King is carried by Julia as she joins Quentin as a narrator.  Readers get inside her mind from the time she failed her entrance exam into Brakebills, as she goes on journey to become Hedgewitch, or a person who practices magic in society’s underground. With all the emphasis on Julia being a crush of Quentin’s in the first book, I was worried that Grossman might try and play out another romantic story, like the one Quentin had with Alice.  Wisely this isn’t explored, although there are moments where it is teased. Avoiding the romance allows Grossman to explore how Julia became who she is. Her journey is rough, and the climax of this journey plays out in one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever read in a fantasy novel.

Quentin kind of feels like a sideshow in this sequel. While he does narrate most of the book, his presence as a character just isn’t felt as strongly, at least until the end. The last novel focused on his coming of age and finding happiness in the world, this novel focuses on how inglorious heroism is. Coming of age is still a running idea in the sequel, but it’s just not as emphasized.

A lot of familiar faces return, and so do a lot of familiar locations. Brakebills is visited once again, so are Quentin’s parents, and yes readers will finally get to meet a dragon.  The sequel also looks into what happened to Josh and Penny after the end of The Magicians.  New characters also make their presence felt.  Bingle is the best swordsman in Fillory, and Quentin’s royal protector. Benedict Fenewick is a passionate young cartographer who greatly admires Quentin. Julia’s friends from her past, Asmodeus and Pouncy, also make memorable impressions, despite their elitist arrogance.

However, the character that I was most amused by was Abigail, a talking sloth that is sent by the congregation of Fillory’s talking animals to go on the main quest with Quentin and his friends. Talking animals, mixed with the rambunctious attitudes of some young 20 somethings is where the hilarity of realism mixed with fantasy steals the show. Trying to dignify nature is a hopeless reality, and Grossman exploits this idea for his most humorous scenes.

The Magician King ends conclusively in terms of plot, but it leaves a major WHAT NEXT question, too.  It’s the perfect way to end a middle of the trilogy book.

Score: 9.1

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