Earlier this year, I completed a review of The Magicians by Lev Grossman. This book was one of my favorites for this year, so imagine my childlike glee when I stumbled across the second part in my favorite used bookstore. One of the great delights of The Magicians was in taking the standard fantasy tropes (magical worlds, talking beasts, fantastic adventures) and filling them with characters who were these damaged pop-culture infused teenagers who were just as clueless about life in the real world as they were about the world of magic. Similar to a certain wizard of Rowling fame, the protagonist Quentin Coldwater stumbles upon a school of magic called Brakebills and after undertaking several daunting tasks in both the real world and the magical one, he becomes one of the kings of a fantasy realm known as Fillory. However, Quentin is no Mr. Potter. He is a flawed human being who is just trying to find meaning in his life. The most fascinating aspect of the first book was in how these characters dealt with the tasks they had to face. Grossman managed to put a very human spin on the standard fantasy story. Would he be able to accomplish the same feat in The Magician King?
“Everybody wanted to be the hero of their own story. Nobody wanted to be comic relief.”
Fortunately, the answer is a resounding yes. Grossman takes the themes from his first novel and manages to take them to the next level. At the beginning of The Magician King, Quentin has been a king of Fillory for a while and has started to become restless. He wants an adventure. Unfortunately, he learns some hard lessons on seeking adventures and taking responsibility. Poor Quentin. He really struggles with becoming a hero doesn’t he? Think of him as an adult Ronald Weasley who really wants to be the Harry Potter.
What Grossman has achieved with this series is not only a great epic fantasy but also a commentary on the genre itself. The Brakebills graduates have studied their Tolkien as well as Harry Potter (there are a couple of funny Potter references in this installment). It is not only a pleasure to read about Quentin’s heroics but also to watch his understanding of the cruel realities of being a hero. Quentin still has a lot of faults, which can at times make him quite frustrating. Fortunately for this novel, Grossman incorporates a second main character.
The book alternates between Quentin’s present crisis and flashbacks to the character of Julia. She appeared briefly in the first book, and in this installment, we finally learn what happened to her while Quentin was having his first adventures. Julia took the examination at Brakebills and failed. She was sent back to her old life in the real world with her memory erased of the experience. Unfortunately, the memory erasure didn’t take, and Julia begins to remember that magic is very real. This leads her down a dangerous road of mental dysfunction as she begins to learn magic through underground magicians working in secret. Her tale is very sad and the final flashback prior to her joining Quentin in Fillory is utterly heartbreaking.
As you can tell, I really enjoyed this installment and look forward to wrapping up the trilogy in the near future. For those that are interested, The Magicians has been adapted into a television series. The first season just finished airing so expect it to appear on Netflix soon.
“That was the thing about the world: it wasn’t that things were harder than you thought they were going to be, it was that they were hard in ways that you didn’t expect.”
What are your thoughts on the review or this book?