The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Following the events in The Magicians, Quentin and his friends Eliot, Janet and Julia are living the high life in Fillory as kings and queens of their magical kingdom. They have no real responsibilities, so naturally, they spend their time having as much fun as they can in their new-found utopia. Quentin, as usual, is restless. He wants a real adventure of the kind he read about in the Fillory novels as a child, where he would save the kingdom and become a hero—but no adventure has come. When the opportunity arises to go on a minor adventure to collect taxes from a far-away island, he signs up and sets off for the island with Julia, who shares his restlessness in Fillory.

When they land on the island, he hears a rumor of a mysterious island known as After Island that holds the key to wind up the world, and he’s sure that this is the adventure he’s been waiting for since becoming King of Fillory. However, when an incident leads him and Julia back to Earth, he’s at a loss for what to do, and he has to rely on Julia’s skills as a hedge-witch to navigate them back home.

Characters new and old
Lev Grossman has a way with introducing new characters while still keeping us attached to the old. Julia, a hedge-witch, has an interesting past that is revealed in alternating chapters. From how she felt after failing the Brakebills entrance exam—an exam that Quentin passed, opening him up to a world of magic while leaving her feeling abandoned and curious about the gaps in her memory—to how she found a group of magic users and attempted what was thought to be impossible, and the price that she paid for it.

In addition, other characters that were loved in The Magicians reappear in The Magician King. Josh, their friend from Brakebills who didn’t accompany them to Fillory, makes another appearance, and Eliot plays a small part in the novel. Janet, whom I absolutely detested in The Magicians, thankfully shows very little of herself in this installment. We also meet new characters like Poppy, an anal-retentive, dragon-obsessed, knowledge lover who is reluctantly dragged into the wonder of Fillory; Benedict, a brilliant cartographer seems to want to be depressed; and Bingle, a truly badass swordsman hired to protect Quentin as he goes off on his adventure.

This series is Narnia-2.0
In The Magicians, it was obvious that Fillory was a mirror of the Narnia we all know, but with just enough changes to not infringe on copyright. It’s a wondrous world full of talking animals and magic, but it’s distorted and expanded upon to distance it from Narnia, and highlight aspects of the author’s own creation.

With the addition of this novel, I was pleased to see that Mr. Grossman is also attempting to create an actual set of novels, similar to the Narnia series, but with completely different circumstances. Instead of prepubescent children, he inserts emotionally adolescent 20-somethings—not to mention quite a few more adult themes that wouldn’t be appropriate for children’s stories—and we’re thrust into a whole new world, or rather, the same world with a whole new perspective.

Lacks the ‘wow-factor’
In The Magicians, I was completely stunned by how much information was packed into the pages. It was, in fact, multiple stories that somehow coalesced into a single awesome volume. Grossman attempted the same thing in The Magician King, but it was not executed in the same exceptional manner as it was in The Magicians. Nothing really wowed me in this novel, but at the same time it maintained an above-average baseline that kept me wanting to turn the page and find out what happens next, so there’s something to be said for that. There are life-altering revelations, characters that appealed to me, and things that I didn’t think would happen, but nothing that really made me put the book down and go “Holy crap, did that just happen?”

Why should you read this book?
The Magician King is a fantastic sequel and one that you should read if you enjoyed The Magicians; and even if you didn’t, I seriously encourage you to pick up the first novel and discover the magic of Fillory. I am curious to see what happens in the next installment, whenever that comes my way. I am hoping that Lev Grossman actually develops this series into a true ‘adult’ Narnia series while still maintaining his own original view of the world.

James received a review copy of this book courtesy of Viking.

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