REVIEW: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

REVIEW: The Magician King by Lev GrossmanThe Magician King (The Magicians #2) by Lev Grossman
Published: Viking Adult (2011), Hardcover, 416pg
Source: Publisher
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction

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. (from Amazon)

Okay, so, first off: it’s been ages since I read and reviewed The Magicians. It’s been so long that I forgot the last half of the book and so had to reread it before I could read this one. Can I just say? The second time around I liked The Magicians much more (I even rated it a whole bird higher). Since I knew what to expect I could appreciate more what Lev Grossman was trying to do– he was trying to flip conventional fantasy storytelling on its head. Neat! I mean, I still hated Quentin and it still made me feel bad for entertaining thoughts about going on a fantastical adventure. I still felt heartbroken and bruised at the end. But it wasn’t as bad as what happened the first time around.

I said on Twitter the other day that I think LG realized just how depressed he made a lot of people with The Magicians, and so he made The Magician King way less traumatizing.

Not that there aren’t heart-rending moments in The Magician King. I don’t think it’d be an LG book if he didn’t try to slice your heart in two at least once.

I stole this photo from LG's website. Huzzah!

Overall, though, The Magician King is a much better book. By “better” I mean less depressing, but also it feels better-written. In the first book, there’s a few clunky sections. The pacing is slow, the transition from the first part of the book to the second goes down like a lead balloon, the characters are nearly all unlikable. In The Magician King everything flows much more smoothly; it feels like one coherent book instead of two or three stuck together. The characters are also less annoying, which is helpful.

Quentin was the biggest surprise. In the first book I found him really gloomy and irritating. I wanted to punch him in the face a lot. Even during my second read, when I understood him a bit more, I still found him really irritating. In TMK his annoyingness level is dialed way down, so much so that I actually found myself liking him! Kind of.

I think partly that’s because he’s spent two years being a king, which necessarily changes you as a person (although not always for the better), and furthermore he’s a king in his favorite imaginary land which he’s always wanted to live in. So maybe some of that desperation from the last book got worn away, and so now Quentin is kinder/nicer/more selfless/etc. I was especially surprised as how father-ish he is in some parts, especially with younger characters. The Quentin of the first book would have more likely shoved kids off bridges than worry about their mental health/safety/etc. like the Quentin of the second book does.

(Probably LG found out that everyone hated Quentin and wanted him to die, and so he tweaked him a bit. Good.)

Quentin’s plotline is mixed with Julia’s backstory, which I really liked (until the end, anyway). I’ve been wanting to know more about Julia and how she learned about magic ever since the first book, and her part of the story gives us just that. It’s basically just as depressing as everyone thought it’d be, although there’s some fun parts as well.

That’s true about the whole book, really. It’s a lot more like your more usual fantasy book, with the quests and the leveling up and whatever, although there’s still that edge of not-quite-rightness. Yes, Quentin and co. go on a quest. No, it isn’t as amazing as you’d expect a quest to be based on every other fantasy novel you’ve read. LG may be a bit gentler to those of us with dreams of unreality, but he doesn’t coddle. Unreality is still shit, just like reality can be.

So. The Magician King. Better than The Magicians? Yes, depending on how you felt about The Magicians. I certainly like it better, if only because it’s less likely to break my heart (although it certainly punched it a few times). It also unfortunately ends on a kind of cliffhanger, which makes me want to scream.

If you didn’t like The Magicians because you felt bruised and dismayed after finishing it, I’d say you should still give The Magician King a chance. It’ll fix a lot of the problems you had with The Magicians, and even if it doesn’t– you’ll probably still enjoy reading it.

Read: August 10, 2011

Despite the betterness of this book, there were still a few bits that seemed misplaced. Quentin refers to having some kind of Asperger’s early on in this one, when nothing of the sort was mentioned in the first book. (Personally, I thought he was just self-absorbed, as geniuses tend to be.) Harry Potter is mentioned a LOT, when I don’t think it was before (right?). Just little things like that, which made me think LG was retconning some stuff he forgot to mention in The Magicians. It kind of threw me off.

Also, here’s a fansong by Parry Gripp about The Magicians series:

7 thoughts on “REVIEW: The Magician King by Lev Grossman”

    1. Yup! On page 20 in the hardcover. I made a note of it because I thought it was…well, like it was too easy, almost? Or maybe like it was an excuse for him to be an asshole, and so we were supposed to “forgive” him? idk, it just kind of annoyed me.

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