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 Janet, almost always sarcastic and withdrawn, accompanies Quentin to Outer Island, ostensibly to collect taxes, but eventually they discover something awry in the magic of the world, and that it might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.