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Long Live The Magician King

November 4, 2011

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians began as a stand-alone novel–an increasingly rare creature in the world of fantasy, and not a long-lived one, as it turns out.  But especially after hearing that a Magicians TV series was in the works, I was more than happy to dig into the series’ second installment: The Magician King.

Title: The Magician King

Author: Lev Grossman

Read this: because it’s a mature and thoughtful reflection on the fantasy adventures you’ve loved since you were a kid–while also a brilliant example of one

The short version: magic is real, but it sure ain’t a fairy tale.


When we left Quentin Coldwater and friends at the end of The Magicians, Quentin had nearly resigned himself to a soul-crushingly depressing existence at a do-nothing desk job manufactured for him by the Brakebills staff.  He had discovered that the fantasy world of Fillory, beloved staple of his childhood reading and analog to CS Lewis’ Narnia, was real.  He had also loved, lost, discovered that everything he’d ever dreamed of was actually rather more sinister and ugly than he’d thought, and all those other things that make a fantasy protagonist’s life so harrowing.

Magician King picks up a few years after Quentin’s friends fly (literally) up to his office window to steal him away to (literally) milder climes.  Quentin is now one of the four kings and queens of Fillory, which is recovering from its Magicians-era ordeal and is as magical as ever.  As with the first book in what is now slated to be a trilogy, Grossman deftly weaves fantasy tropes and commentary on them into an eminently readable adventure.  Quentin and company tackle a Quest for Magical Objects, Play With Fire and Get Burned, and learn to Be Careful What They Wish For.  (Disclaimer: I refuse to be held responsible if you click on any of those TVtropes links without at least 30 minutes of free time on your hands…)

One of the most striking elements of the book is Grossman’s decision to bring back Julia, an old friend of Quentin’s who also took the admissions exam for the magical college of Brakebills, but failed.  Since that time and her brief appearances in The Magicians, Julia has scrounged and fought for her magical knowledge the hard way.  Julia is an even stronger female lead than the first book’s Alice.  Sure, she’s depressed; but unlike Quentin, whose last quest ended with a Happily Ever After, she has overwhelmingly understandable reasons for it.  Julia’s chapters often feel truly inspired–Grossman has said in interviews that telling her story was “Julia’s idea,” not his.  They preserve the pull of the “learning” arc of a story of magic, but without the secure, institutional background of a magical school.  The result is both gritty and seductive.

As he weaves together Julia’s past and Quentin’s present, Grossman’s pacing is absolutely spot on.  It makes the book a real page-turner.  (I wasn’t at all happy with my alarm clock after staying up late with Magician King, let me tell you.)  Add in some dark but fascinating real-world folklore and a solid though not wholly original adventure plot, and you get another clever take on what magic means to Quentin, Julia, and their friends–and what fantasy stories mean to the rest of us.  Do yourself a favor and grab a copy.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2011 12:26 AM

    I’m so conflicted as to whether or not I should read this. I hated The Magicians and I know I’ll only read about all the annoying characters, but for some reason I’m drawn to it and a bit curious……ugh…I hate myself for kinda wanting to read it! lol.

    • November 5, 2011 7:40 AM

      Haha well if you absolutely hated Magicians, I’m not sure I can recommend the sequel whole-heartedly, since in many ways it’s more of the same. But I for one found Quentin a bit more mature and less annoying in this one, and Julia and her friends are just great. :)

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