Review: The Magician King

Although I’ve been finding more of them in the last year, it’s still pretty rare for me to be able to say I liked a sequel better than the first book in its series. In this case, I’m talking about the second book in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy (you can check out my review of the first book here, in case you missed it), which I started last month and was so very eager to continue. Although the first ten pages or so had me worried, the rest of book 2, The Magician King, met absolutely every expectation.

FullSizeRender (11)About the book: Being a king of Fillory is everything it was supposed to be, but that still isn’t enough for Quentin. He and Julia, Eliot, and Janet have everything they could’ve asked for as Fillory’s kings and queens–everything but adventure. The other three might be content enough with the adventure of being royalty in a magical land, but Quentin longs for a quest. Still, it’s been a long time since he’s had a clear purpose for action, so when a quest presents itself, he walks away with the others. The quest, however, will not walk away from them. So when Quentin finds an excuse to make a sea voyage to Outer Island, the far reaches of Fillory, he takes it. Then he listens to a story about seven golden keys, and instead of returning to his castle he sets out to find them. Little does he know then that he will never make it back to Whitespire Castle at all.

“There was more to life than being fat and safe and warm in a clockwork luxury resort. Or maybe there wasn’t more, but he was going to find out. And how did you find out? You had an adventure. That’s how. You picked up a golden key.”

The beginning vs. the end: the book starts in a very different place from where it leaves off, and both reminded me of points in other literary works. The first ten pages or so reminded me of that time in the Chronicles of Narnia when Henry, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy have been royalty so long that when they stumble back upon the lamp post that marks the entrance back to Earth they hardly remember that part of their lives at all, or even where they came from. Fillory is different than Narnia, though. Fillory’s kings and queens see their chance to be more than fat and safe and warm, but unlike the Narnian royalty these magicians don’t take the chance. Of course, the chance ends up taking them, but at first there’s the disappointment of reading about characters who are too content to take chances. It’s the only boring part of the book.

“If you’re too good too much of the time, people start to forget about you. You’re not a problem, so people can strike you off their list of things to worry about.”

But the end! The end is huge and tragic and exciting. The hero doesn’t win the reward, the hero pays the price. Of course Quentin set out to be the hero, and thus pays the biggest price. It reminded me strongly of the end of Pierce Brown’s Golden Son, also the second book in a trilogy. The plots of these two works are vastly different, but the emotional wreckage matches up nicely. Between the crazy plot twists and the devastation of the main character losing everything that’s most important at that point, it would’ve been hard to carry on at all if not for the surety that the extreme lows are just a setup for the epic finale coming up next. Quentin is being pushed into greatness.

“You didn’t get the quest you wanted, you got the one you could do. That was the hard part, accepting that you didn’t get to choose which way you went. Except of course he had chosen.”

On another note, the layout has improved since book 1. We have some great back-and-forth in this one between Quentin’s present and Julia’s past, which keeps the book from stalling. In the first book there were times when the reader needed to see that not much was going on, and to understand the atmosphere at those times even when the plot went dull. It was part of the world-building, when Quentin was studying at school, and part of the character-building as relationships were being established and tested at Brakebills and beyond. In this sequel, the main characters and the world are set; there are new people and new elements, but the main course is already served. All that’s left is to taste it.

“Careful what you hunt, lest you catch it.”

The best part of this book: seeing an old “friend” from The Magicians reappearing unexpectedly. I won’t say who, but I will say that this reappearance makes me even more hopeful that another beloved character will find a way to return yet before the end of the series. I mean, this is a magical world where space and time and life and death have been proven capable of manipulation. Anything should be possible, right? There’s one more chance for this person to come back, so I will definitely be picking up the final book in this trilogy early next month. I have a hunch. I also have a hunch about the Watcherwoman. This is a series that’s impossible to read without making predictions about how everything will connect. Luckily, it’s also one of those series that doesn’t feel like the world is shrinking as connections are being made.

“The higher you get the more you realize how much bigger than you everything is.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I absolutely love this series. I love all of its references to other fantasy worlds and I love that it feels like Narnia for grownups and I love the characters with all their flaws. Even with a whole book still left to read I know I’m going to miss this story when it’s over. I’m interested to see how the rest of the TV series will pan out. At this point, I’d advise reading the entire trilogy before starting to watch the show because it does mix in elements from beyond the first book even in the beginning of the first season. Which also means that I’m ready for a rewatch to pick up details I missed in season 1 the first time around. I just can’t wait to see where this trilogy is going next and I hope Lev Grossman is busy writing something new that’s long and amazing right this very minute.

Further recommendations:

  1. Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter is a science fiction thriller with such high level physics that it feels almost as magical as the Magicians trilogy (though just as accessible). The multiverse comes into play in this one as well, although the door-filled corridor looks much different than the Neitherlands (the magical fountain land between worlds in Grossman’s trilogy). If you like highly intelligent characters and fast plot twists, check this one out.
  2. If it’s the sword fights and the politics and the crossing-between-worlds that interest you in the Magicians trilogy, try Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, the first volume in a historical fiction saga that involves time travel and various supernatural elements mixed in with actual wars from the mid 1700s.

Coming up Next: Even though I just finished reading The Magician King last night, I’ve already started my next April read, Julie Buntin’s adult lit fic novel Marlena. This was my BOTM club pick from March (which I’m clearly starting a little late), and I’m already completely invested in these tragic characters and their risky choices.

Have you read any of those great books lately that are both character-driven and have fantastic plots? I’ll always pick good characters over plots, but both combined are… magical. That’s how the Magicians trilogy is going. What have you read that makes you feel like all the elements are perfectly balanced?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: You can now check out my full review on the next book in this series, The Magician’s Land!

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