Friday, March 8, 2013

Review: The Magician King

The Magician King
By Lev Grossman
Viking Press 2011
400 pages
From the library

The Magician King

Spoiler Alert: There is actually no way to discuss this book without spoilers. If you haven't read The Magicians, I'm about to tell you everything....

In this sequel to The Magicians, Quentin and his friends seem to have found some sort of peace. Their days are filled with a sort of meandering nothing that is expected of the kings and queens of Fillory. But Quentin finds himself ever unsatisfied, wondering if there is something between the mind-numbing boredom of being the ruler of a peaceful kingdom and the violent havoc that is a result of a kingdom at war. When he hears of a small island that hasn't paid their taxes for years, he decides to embark on a quest to find out why. His quest, like all quests, becomes much more complicated and adventure-filled than Quentin could have ever imagined.

While Quentin begins as the narrator of this story, it mostly belongs to Julia - the dark, unstable queen of Fillory who was denied entrance to Brakebills, the prestigious magic school that shaped Quentin and the other rulers. Through this book, we discover how she learned magic and visit the shadowy corners of the world where magic is unregulated. There is some real tension throughout between Quentin, who basically had things handed to him as a result of his upper class education, and Julia, who had to fight for everything that she got, usually under terrible circumstances. While Quentin has had to deal with some tough stuff, Julia is forever the "other" - the one who didn't make it into the posh school, doesn't have the mentors or connections, and who looks at life through all of the baggage she carries with her. As with The Magicians, there are a lot of parallels to be drawn to our own lives, despite the lack of magic in our world. 

I appreciated that Quentin seemed to mature from the previous book to this one. He is still somewhat selfish, but we can see a new side of him where he truly thinks about the feelings of others. While he is still trying to figure out what he wants from life and what will make him happy, he is less whiny and seems to have realized that he is not the only one who has problems in life. He serves as a good foil to Julia's character as the narrative switches between their present and Julia's past. In the present, Julia is difficult to like or understand. She holds herself at such a distance from the reader and the other characters. But as we read more of her back story, her bizarre behavior starts to make sense. 

The Magician King still gives plenty of love to your favorite fantasy series, including Lord of the Rings and Narnia.  In fact, the opening scene when the kings and queens go on a hunt is extremely reminiscent of the Pevensie children looking for that white stag. Oh, and then they go on a quest to find an island - can we say Voyage of the Dawn Treader? But Fillory is a much different world from Narnia and this book is worlds away from C.S. Lewis' series. The Magician King is delightfully dark. Grossman makes humor dark and can make the darkest plot points funny. 

"Quentin had an obsolete sailing ship that had been raised from the dead. He had a psychotically effective swordsman and an enigmatic witch-queen. It wasn't the Fellowship of the Ring, but then again he wasn't trying to save the world from Sauron, he was attempting to perform a tax audit on a bunch of hick islanders. It would definitely do."

The Magician King is a dark and funny re-imagining of the fantasy stories you loved as a child. Grossman builds upon his magical world with lots of unexpected twists and turns. If you enjoyed The Magicians, you won't want to miss engaging tale.

You can read my review of The Magicians here. The third book, The Magician's Land should be out in early 2014.


  1. Lev Grossman always pick interesting subjects for his books. This book is perfect example that how far he can go with his active imaginations!! Magician King raised my expectations being a fantasy reader.

    1. He does have a great imagination and he is such a talented writer. Have you read Codex? What did you think of it?