March 2nd, 2013

Review: The Magician King (The Magicians #2) by Lev Grossman

The Magician King
by Lev Grossman

Sequel to The Magicians.
This review contains spoilers for that book.

As one of the four rulers of the Narnia-esque kingdom of Fillory, Quentin Coldwater has fulfilled a treasured childhood dream. His quest for meaning, though, remains unfulfilled. Quentin eagerly grabs the first adventure he can find, even if he’s only chartering a ship to visit a remote part of the kingdom to collect back taxes. While there, he hears a fairy tale about seven keys, and decides that he might as well try to collect them. His quest goes awry and suddenly, Quentin and his fellow ruler Julia are dumped back on Earth with no way to return to Fillory. As they plow into their new quest – get back to Fillory as soon as possible! – a parallel story in alternating chapters tells more about Julia’s life before Fillory, and her painful, grueling magical education.

One of the things that I love about this series, and especially this story, is the way that it turns many of the tropes of children’s fantasy on its head. Every good fairy tale may end with “happily ever after”, but as Quentin quickly learns ever after is both longer and duller than you’d expect. Chasing magical beasts and ruling a magical kingdom don’t really fulfill him anymore than sex, wealth and drugs did when he lived on Earth. Poor Quentin. He’s just another spoiled narcissist, and it’s a struggle to like him. But by the end I did find a soft spot for him, because all his life Quentin has believed that heroes get the glory and the honor, but he finally learns that he’s wrong: the hero is the one who makes the sacrifice.

Julia’s journey is also…interesting. Sorta. It has its moments as a grittier, darker way of learning magic, a sort of “street” version of the polished college education Quentin enjoyed in The Magicians. But after a while, it got to me. A large chunk of her story seems to involve Julia trading sexual favors for magic, and something in me rebelled and complained, “Why do women always get stuck using their bodies to get ahead? Why couldn’t Julia be the one who went to the preppy college and let Quentin be the one whoring himself out?”

The story also seems to go on just a little too long. Quests are certainly a valuable storytelling element, incorporated into many great works of literature, but in this novel, where one quest follows another and yet another, the story starts to drag and by the final third it’s really sluggish.

3.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Magician King, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the in:
2012: Vacation: Weddingpalooza
2011: Bookmooch Journal: Cold as Ice
2010: News: Why Historical Romances Have Headless Women on the Covers
2009: Contest #6 Winner