|In Short:||A more concise follow-up to a well-written Urban Fantasy-take on Fantasy lands mixed with the real world.|
|Whatever it was, it was a Fillorian wonder, a real one, wild and grand and strange. IT was a long time since he'd seen one, or maybe it was just a long time since he'd noticed...they were looking the mystery in the face. This was the raw stuff, the main line, the old, old magic.|
If you haven’t perused the In the Stacks section of the magazine this month, I recommend you do so before reading this review. This book, The Magician King, is the follow-up to Lev Grossman’s bestseller, The Magicians, handily reviewed there. Once you’ve taken a look at that, c’mon back and we’ll continue the story (which does mean that there will be spoilers here for The Magicians… you have been warned).
When we last left our hero, Quentin, he had given up on magic completely after the events in Fillory that led to, among other things, the death of his love, Alice. At the very end of the previous book, though, his old friends Eliot and Janet appeared, with Quentin’s old-crush-from-high-school Julia in tow, wanting Quentin to return with them to Fillory and take his place as one of the Kings (it seems that Fillory doesn’t have a good dictionary around to know the definition of “monarch” and instead needs two kings and two queens to rule). [Hey, just like Narnia! – Ed.]
His time as King is the most fulfilling that Quentin has had in his life, and yet he still feels a little incomplete. He decides that he needs some adventure in his life, and so heads out on a kingly voyage (taking Queen Julia along with) to visit a far-away island, for the rather mundane reason of collecting back taxes that the island residents owed. On the way, he hears of a fable about a “golden key to the world”, and his decision to pursue this key himself sets into motion events that tie into Julia’s non-normal magical past, and end up rocking the very foundation of Fillory, and of magic use in the entire universe (whoops!).
The first book ended up being split into three distinct sections, but Grossman has taken a different tack for The Magician King. This time, the book alternates between the main story at hand, that of Quentin and Julia, and of Julia’s past, told in a series of flashbacks. There were hints of her story from The Magicians, but it is much more fleshed out this go around.
It is a little disjointed with the alternating chapters for a while, because while Julia’s story is kind of interesting, she doesn’t seem to have that particularly large of a role in the main tale with Quentin, so we sort of have two almost-independent plots going on throughout the book. But Julia’s story does definitely tie in by the end, and after reading the entire book, I felt that The Magician King felt overall more complete than its predecessor.
Many of the same elements from the previous book are still here, from the well-rounded characters to the realistic feel despite being a story centered around magic and fantasy -- but everything just seems more streamlined.
Along with this comes the return of one of the irritations I had with the previous book, that being the relative lack of magic coming from “The Magician King” -- near the end of The Magicians, Quentin seemed to have improved his understanding of magic considerably (before abandoning it), and yet here there are still many instances that could have called for the use of magic and yet didn’t. I find that odd.
But I now think it is less of an oversight and more of a conscious decision by the author, as the focus is on the character of Quentin, and not his actions. Quentin wants to be known as a hero, and thinks that if he becomes a hero he’ll finally feel complete and have meaning in his life. The Magician King, at its heart, is the story of heroism, and everything that entails -- including the consequences.
Like The Magicians, this sequel retains those clever aspects that purposely tie it in with past other series such as the Chronicles of Narnia, but come from a more adult/realistic view; still, I think this is a better book. So give both a try, and be inspired to ponder whether you would ever want to fulfill childhood dreams of being a hero if you were ever given the opportunity in a magical land to do so.
-- K. Burtt