The Magician King, by Lev Grossman – Book Review

Review includes some spoilers for The Magicians.

Lev Grossmans’ The Magician King opens with Eliot, Janet, Julia and Quentin as rulers of the magical kingdom of Fillory. The Magician’s saw them discovering Fillory, a rumored fairytale land, in the years following their education at premier magic school Brakebills. The path to Fillory was not an easy one.They all suffered betrayals and disappointments with Quentin being devastated by the death of his girlfriend, Alice. But now having grown bored being a king, Quentin is looking to be the hero of a new adventure. Janet, almost always sarcastic and withdrawn, accompanies Quentin to Outer Island, ostensibly to collect taxes, but eventually they discover something awry in the magic of the world, and that it might take seven golden keys to save Fillory.

I read The Magician’s last year for a book club and loved the writing but was less content with the story, which got bogged down in aimlessness. I was lured in again by Grossman’s writing, which is not only very smart, but engaging. The worlds and the magical details he creates are richly detailed, and my experience reading The Magician King was engrossing and, for the most part, enjoyable. Still the same is Quentin’s continuing inability to find happiness and fulfillment once he’s landed his dream job as King of Fillory. I had to keep reminding myself of just how young he was because he never seems it. Julia’s story also takes prominence in the story as the reader learns about her grueling and emotionally taxing journey to become the master magician that she is.

Grossman succeeds at making his characters interesting even if you don’t understand where there bleak outlooks on like come from. Julia is just as incapable of  being happy as Quentin. There is an interplay between them that is interesting to observe, and Grossman take the opportunity to say a lot about personal responsibility in relationships. You’ll either agree completely or be totally frustrated by this spect of the novel. The middle sections of the book did seem a little long amidst so much angsty emotion from Julia and Quentin, but recovers  as it builds toward its less that satisfying resolution. All the better to leave readers primed for the next book.

Readers who are new to the series will be able to catch up on the important parts from the last book while they are reading this one, but if you have read The Magician’s you will be mighty tempted to go back and give yourself a refresher  to see how Julia’s version of events stack up against the version of the story we heard before. Recommended.

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  1. Very nice review! I had problems with both novels in this series, although I marginally preferred this one to the first. I wholeheartedly agree that Grossman’s writing is smart and compelling, which is why I couldn’t resist the second novel despite being quite unhappy with the first. And, even though I grumbled about this one, I’m still getting the third because I’m curious to see where it goes!

    1. Well especially at the end and the opportunity that he would have had, had he been allowed to take it. I agree with you on both books being somewhat unsatisfying, but we just can’t stop here!

    1. I think this books stayed on point more than the last one did. The last book kind of wandered off for a long while and lost momentum. I remember that very few of us were happy with it.

    1. I think I was satisfied in the way that the story got back on track, and maybe in the sense that he did a really good job in making me wonder about what would happen next.

  2. Did you read this because of a book club or of your of volition?

    I actually liked Quentin in this book! I hated Julia for all the reasons I hated Quentin in The Magicians. I can’t think of any other two books that I love to hate more. Can’t wait for the third and final one.

    1. I read the first one in my book club and not many liked. I ventured back because I loved Grossman’s writing. It was interesting to see Julia’s story, but she did get on my nerves. She seemed to think she was entitled to quite a book. I had mixed feelings on this book but will be waiting for that last book!

  3. I think Audra articulated the main reason why I loved the first one and love this one even harder–they’re smart. I like the way the characters think. I adored reading about the geektastic tests Julia had to go through to join her little online society, before she met them in person.

  4. Second review of the book I’ve seen over the past week, which has got me thinking I might need to expand my fantasy horizons and take a look. Just now getting into the arena with Game of Thrones after having read nothing outside of Tolkien.