- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Viking
- ISBN-10: 0670022314
- ISBN-13: 978-0670022311
Synopsis: Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.
Lev Grossman first hit the scene in 2009 with The Magicians, a dark, modern fantasy novel about Quentin Coldwater, a high school senior who enrolls in Brakebills University of Magic. Somewhere between Harry Potter and Trainspotting, The Magicians was a beautiful coming of age story that made a powerful statement about Grossman’s ability as a storyteller of substance.
Grossman returns to Fillory with Quinten and the gang in the followup, The Magician King, where trouble is brewing once again. After years of enjoying his time as a King of Fillory, the restless Quentin finds himself facing trouble he’s only too eager to dive right into. Grossman’s command of prose is as powerful as ever. The pace of the book has its highs and lows, but Grossman is very good about making the best of every situation; every scene means something, every conversation has an insight into the characters, and Grossman pulls at your heart strings like a puppeteer, steering you from laughter to sadness with just the right words in every page. Even when the book was slow, I never lost interest in the story. Unlike The Magicians, which can be accused of packing too much of the plot in the third act, The Magician King feels like a much better balanced story, flipping between Quentin’s adventure in Fillory and Julia’s story, and the very rocky road she walked in her quest for the magic and life that Brakebills tried to deny her.
One frustrating point of this novel is that Quentin didn’t seem to take anything away from his experiences in The Magicians. This is an intentional decision in the storytelling and I get why. It’s a lesson in, no matter where you go, there you are. Even though Quentin has been through this profound experience in the previous story, it didn’t change him as much as he thought it did. He’s just as blind, just as arrogant as he ever was – he only THINKS he knows better now. That’s not to say that he’s not a different character than we met in the first book, because he is. He just hasn’t grown as much as he thinks he has, and it’s this kind of humanity in Grossman’s characters that make them both wonderful and incredibly frustrating at the same time. They’re 100% real.
Excellent characters and storytelling aside, I felt that the end of the novel was a little transparent. I knew where Grossman was taking Quentin on his emotional journey and I wasn’t that surprised at it’s reveal; that said the end of the novel sets us up for the third chapter of this story, something that I eagerly anticipate.
I give The Magician King, by Lev Grossman Four out of Five Stars.
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