Book Review: The Magician King, by Lev Grossman

08 August 2011

The Magician King is available tomorrow, August 9, from Viking. $26.95 / Hardcover. 978-0-670-02231-1. Preorder now from a bookstore near you via Indiebound.

Back in January, I read The Magicians for a book club meeting that never happened. Nevertheless, I loved it. Critics have argued that it relies too heavily on themes and plots from Harry Potter and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - and yes, it's true, it does - but I argue that pries the fantastical world of magical academies out of its previously fixed position in children's literature and launches it into a world of pseudo-grown-ups. Including the drugs, the drinking, the sex, and the rock-and-roll. No joke.

With the long-awaited sequel, The Magician King, Lev Grossman shows fans of The Magicians into the not-so-happily-ever-after of the first novel; Quentin, Julia, Elliot and Janet rule over Fillory as the kings and queens of the magical realm. Despite living a life of luxury, pampered in decadent rooms of an even more decadent castle, Quentin finds himself restless, itching for something bigger, something more. This restlessness, coupled with a growing concern over the ever-less-human seeming Julia, finds the two of them on a not-so-epic adventure to collect forgotten taxes the outskirts of his realm.

One thing leads to another (as it so often does), and soon they are chasing down a mythical golden key straight out of a fairy tale. Needless to say, things do not go as planned. Quentin gets his adventure - and so much more - as he finds himself on a quest to save himself, his world, his friend, and even magic itself.

The Magician King takes us back to the world of Fillory we came to love in The Magicians. Quentin and the others have grown, and learned, and become the people they were just breaking into in the first book. The Quentin of The Magicians is a tad unlikeable. Or maybe more than a tad. But watching him grow up and really become someone mostly redeems the unlikeable bits. And though the two storylines present here - one of Quentin and Julia's questing and one of Julia's past - don't always fit together neatly, Grossman manages to make it work, Tim-Gunn-style.

More importantly, the growth of these characters brings the hard questions that we all must face about growing up: What do we want to be? Who do we want to be? How do we want to be perceived? How can we find out where we belong? What does it take to be content? To be happy, even? The questions themselves, as much as the answers, prove that Grossman's most recent novel is as successful a fantasy novel as any: his is a fantasy that is eminently relevant to the real world dilemmas we all must face.

Grossman's writing is a treat to read, coupling masterful prose with the perfect touch of witticisms, humor, and pop-culture references. This is a fantasy novel of the 21st-century, and Grossman is not afraid to embrace that. Grossman gives credit where credit is due , and the characters of The Magician King often reference the worlds of Tolkien, Potter and Lewis in their own storylines. In embracing his inspirations, rather than hiding from them, Grossman has succeeded in moving the fantasy genre forward a notch, creating a world that is as uniquely his own as much as it is derived from the fantasy novels we've all already read and cherished.

While The Magician King might not be the best fit for a reader not predisposed to enjoy stories of magic, dragons, spells and secret worlds, it is an epic fantasy novel that will prove a joy to any fan of the fantasy genre -- especially those that have been waiting not-so-patiently (such as yours truly) for it since completing The Magicians. And in the style of the true great works of fantasy, the lessons here reverberate well past the magical world of Fillory and into the very real world in which we all live.

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It's worth noting that if you haven't read The Magicians, the bulk of The Magician King will still be understandable. It's also worth nothing that if you haven't read The Magicians, you probably should.

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Thoughts from other bookworms:

Jenny's Books
Jenn's Bookshelves

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You might also like:

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Among Others by Jo Walton
Mr. Toppit by Charles Elton

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Note: Thanks to Viking for an advance copy of this book for review.

4 comments :

  1. Still very very angry we no longer live together and I couldn't steal this from you, and that when you came over, you brought it AND didn't let me keep it. I feel like this anger may subside when I buy it and read it tomorrow...

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  2. I read The Magicians for my book club and it wasn't for me, but I'm sure it was because I'm not a fantasy reader. I'll probably skip this book.

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  3. If you haven't already, you should check out Lev's brother's novel, SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE, a favorite superhero novel of mine. Very well written and hysterical.

    I have this novel on my to read list, among other things. I must admit I didn't finish The Magicians, but was reading it on a work device then had to give it back...perhaps...

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  4. I just found your blog looking for other reviews of The Magician King after I wrote mine. It was nice to find another unreservedly good review; I didn't find as many as I expected to.
    I also subscribed and added you to my blog roll, since I agreed with everything you wrote. ;)

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