The Magician King Review

The Magician King Review

There’s a reason series are so popular. Going to a new book with new stories but familiar characters and places is nostalgic in a way that few things can be. Sometimes you even put up with a series that’s long since gone bad just to find a little pleasure in it.

I didn’t know what to expect from The Magician King. I really enjoyed The Magicians, but it was clear right away that The Magician King would not be a similar kind of book. My husband, the sci-fi reader, calls books like The Magicians “world-building.” But once the world is built, then what?

Author Lev Grossman said early on that The Magician King would be different. As it begins, Quentin is now a King of Fillory. But he’s not too much different from our old Quentin. He wants to be more than he is but never knows quite how to do it. He is filled with regret and sadness over the loss of Alice. And his new life isn’t as fulfilling as he hoped it would be.

So what is a bored King to do? Go on a quest, of course. Quentin’s is a small errand but one which involves a long journey and will bring him close to unknown waters. With him is Julia, the forlorn rejected magician of the previous book whose presence in Fillory is still a mystery to Quentin.

Their journeys are extensive and one quest turns into another as things get more complex. Along the way, Grossman intermingles their story with the backstory of Julia’s lost years.

What I really wanted from this book was a new story with the same spirit of the first. It starts with a real youthful enthusiasm. And ends with a climax that is harrowing and heartwrenching. I liked the courage and the truth of the experiences, that coming-of-age which is not just about discovery but about loss. I wanted darkness. And I was happy that there was plenty of it.

The damaged characters of the first book are still their damaged selves. Actions still have consequences. And being a hero is still easier said than done.

Julia’s story reveals the ways of magic outside the traditional Brakebills system, an underground network of weirdos, nerds and goths who learn a spell here and there. Her story is also the less satisfying one of the book. Julia’s persistent feelings of worthlessness and rejection are obviously real and substantial, but months and years of it can pass in a page. Julia’s inner life is missing, much as Alice’s was from the first. Character development is perhaps the biggest flaw in the series.

I suppose if you consider its closest relations (the Narnia and Potter series) it’s got character development in spades. Those books tend to work in stereotype or less.

All the same, Julia’s mysteriousness serves the book well. She is an enigma to Quentin, just as she is to all who come across her on her travels, both present and past. Her air of otherworldly-ness keeps Quentin constantly off balance and her indifference is a good contrast to his ambition.

Some of the unanswered questions from the first book are answered. There is a river dragon’s lair. There is the secret of what happened to Penny. There are visits to Earth and even a trip to the afterlife to keep things interesting.

I ate this book up with a big spoon. It was perfect vacation reading, quick and vibrant and witty. And it’s nice to see that I’m warming up to Quentin as he starts to get older and get his act together. I sometimes couldn’t enjoy the first book because I would get so angry with him and his stupid adolescent ways. But then, that was what made him such a good and honest character.

I have to admit, I am hoping for more. Though I think I’ll read whatever Grossman decides to do next.

Be sure to check out my Q&A with author Lev Grossman.


The Magician King will be released on August 9, 2011.

I was not compensated for this review, but I was provided with a preview copy of the book by The Penguin Group. My copy may be different from the version that is eventually released in terms of some minor edits.

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