I have to admit, it has been hard not to post this review until now, but today is the day Lev Grossman’s newest book “The Magician King” comes out. This book is a sequel to “The Magicians” which I reviewed some time ago. This time, I was fortunate enough to obtain an advanced copy, so today, while it is fresh on the shelves, I am able to review the book in its entirety. As this book is certainly one that has spoilers, I will refrain from mentioning anything in specifics, and perhaps revisit the subject at a later date. If you would like to comment, please do so, but if there will be spoilers please warn other readers or send me a message personally.
The Magician King picks up generally where the other book left off, the magicians Quentin, Eliot, Janet, & their newest addition Julia, are now kings and queen of Fillory. Fillory is Grossman’s personal Narnia, and while it certainly makes you think of the world C.S. Lewis created, Grossman is clear from the first chapter that Fillory has a much darker forces at work than the lush green fields and clockwork castles might indicate.
Quentin has grown up, and much of his original naiveté is gone. Though still somewhat whiney, his complaints are ones of an adult, and this evolution in his character is welcome as well as earned. Grossman seems to take a note from Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” demonstrating that sometimes “Happily Ever After” is somewhat boring, and never all it appears to be. The gang is still relatively young, and not all of them are ready to simply live life in a world where they are mainly an accessory. Specifically, Quentin is torn for his desire for “one last adventure,” as he wonders whether or not asking for this dishonors the memory of the girl who sacrificed herself to give him the life he has.
Alongside Quentin is Julia, who was a character who lived in the shadows of Grossman’s first novel. We saw her a few times, and I was always wishing I had seen more. Grossman appears to have felt this from many of his readers, and although I assumed much of what we learn about Julia’s story, I was still riveted on every page.
Much of what my friends took issue with in “The Magician’s” is dispensed with in the sequel. In particular, all of the characters are older, and don’t fall victim to the follies of college drama as much as they did in their youth. This does not mean, however, that sex is not involved, nor is it always an expression of love. Grossman maintains that sex in life, is not always romantic, and is often messy both physically and emotionally. For this reason, I applaud that Grossman maintains the idea that magicians are still human, and humans with access to magic, can often bring out the worst in humanity.
The book’s central focus is on the idea of the quest. Grossman has often spoken in interviews about his love of T.H. White’s description of the quest for the Holy Grail in “The Once and Future King.” As a huge fan of that particular telling as well, I was keenly aware of Grossman’s adoration of all things that are involved in a Quest, and his ability to balance feats of heroism with the reality of the dangers involved.
In addition to giving us a splendid adventure, Grossman is able flex his in-depth knowledge of all things geeky. From his rather elaborate references to Dungeons and Dragons to in-depth descriptions of tech-heavy enigmas, it is clear that Grossman has a wealth of knowledge in things that the populace has defined as “nerd-culture.” While I consider myself somewhat versed, I was absolutely blown away by his ability to describe what was essentially genius wish fulfillment. To say more, would be to ruin it, but when you read it, and you should, know that Grossman’s ability to describe something so complex with such ease is mark of a true genius.
The Magician King helps Grossman’s characters go beyond the label of “Harry Potter for adults” and enter into a rare gem where characters which would be at home in the genre of literary fiction, are also able to perform amazing things with the help of magic and intellect. If you enjoyed Grossman’s first book at all, this sequel offers you more of what you loved, with less of what readers might have found unpalatable. As a huge fan of his book, I was concerned that without a large section of the book being about the magic college, I would be less entranced. Instead I found every page of this story was so energizing I often had to put it down, as I was literally shaking with excitement. The Magician King is both a poignant story about finding your place in the world, as well as roller coaster ride, and, as such, cannot come more highly recommended by me.
I would like to be sum this up by stating that this review says everything I can think of, and it shocks me that I have basically no criticisms for this novel. While I might have changed one or two things, they are so small and miniscule, that to mention them would be petty and silly; Grossman might be one of the few authors I have ever reviewed in such a positive light.