The Magician King : (Book 2) Paperback
by Lev Grossman
Meet Quentin Coldwater, king of the bizarre and wonderful land of Fillory.
But he is getting restless, even in heaven a man needs a little adventure.
So when a steward is murdered on a morning's hunt Quentin gets exactly that.
But this quest is like no other. What starts as a glorified cruise to faraway lands soon becomes the stuff of nightmares... The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an extraordinary journey that allows the imagination to run riot and proves Grossman is the modern heir to C.S.
Lewis. This is a book like no other.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 560 pages
- Publisher: Cornerstone
- Publication Date: 01/08/2012
- Category: Fantasy
- ISBN: 9780099553465
- EPUB from £4.99
Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.
Review by edgeworth
The Magicians is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year – a thoughtful and realistic take on the childhood fantasies of Harry Potter and Narnia which manages to simultaneously deconstruct and celebrate those legends. One of the only things I didn’t like about it was its ending, which flipped the story on its head and would have ruined the book if not for the fact that I knew there was a sequel.I can’t quite agree with ending the first novel that way (especially knowing that Grossman didn’t intend to write a sequel at the time) but The Magician King delivers a more than satisfactory continuation of Quentin Coldwater’s tale, not only returning to its old themes and ideas, but building on them and exploring new ones. (Spoilers for The Magicians from here on in.)The Magicians finished with Quentin’s adventures in Fillory leaving him not only unsatisfied and unfulfilled, but also mourning the death of his girlfriend Alice. It then took a sharp twist when his old friends Eliot, Janet and Julia showed up to take him back to Fillory to reign as king. And so The Magician King begins after Quentin has been reigning over Fillory for some time, gradually beginning to feel his listless ennui set in once again. A minor voyage to visit an outlying island, to see why they haven’t been paying taxes, seems in order. (There’s more than a touch of Voyage of the Dawn Treader here.) The book really begins to kick off after Quentin and Julia arrive at that island and finds themselves thrust into a deeper quest.Intertwined with this quest is Julia’s backstory. In The Magicians, she was a background character, a failed Brakebills entrant stuck with fragments of memory about what she failed to achieve, who confronted Quentin when he came home for summer holidays and begged him to get her into Brakebills. By the novel’s end she has inexplicably become a magician; The Magician King explains how. While Quentin’s story in The Magicians was one of achieving a dream and ultimately being dissatisfied with it, Julia’s story is one of glimpsing a dream and then having the door cruelly slammed shut. What would have happened to Harry Potter if he had met Hagrid and gone to Diagon Alley, but then been unable to cross through Platform 9 3/4s? What would have happened if he’d been forced to return to Privet Drive in London’s suburbs? What would he have been willing to do to get back into that magical world?Both my housemates read the book before me, and hated it for Julia’s backstory. I had no issue with it, apart from a few cringey chapters where she gets involved with an online forum (and meets its denizens in real life later… where they’re still referred to by their online usernames). There is a slight issue in the fact that her story is juxtaposed against Quentin’s adventures, which are totally awesome, and I while I was never bored reading Julia’s story I was never exactly enthralled either – at least until its horrifying climax, which is excellent, although both my housemates separately spoiled it for me.And Quentin’s story is fantastic. It’s full of neat little events, like when he wakes up in the morning on an island, wanders away from his sleeping companions to take a leak, and ends up getting drawn into an unexpected adventure. Just as in The Magicians, Grossman is riffing on the fantasy genre while also revelling in it; it’s a rare novel that manages to do this so well. I love the meta-awareness Grossman imbues in all his characters, who aren’t so much aware that they’re in a story as much as they’re comparing their lives to stories, or imagining how other people see what they’re doing:<i>“All due respect to your being king here, but Julia and I are king and queen of Fillory, and we have to get back there. For all intents and purposes we are on a fucking quest here. You are now on the quest team too. I am deputising you. We have to get back to Fillory, and we don’t know how we’re going to do it. That’s the problem.”</i>Or:<i>The old wood of Josh’s dining table felt cool against Quentin’s forehead. In a few more seconds he’d sit up again.That’s how long it would take to roll his brain back to the state it was in before it thought that their troubles were over. Until then Quentin would just enjoy the cool solidity of the table for one second more. He let the despair wash over him. The button was gone. He thought about banging his head a few times, just lightly, but that would have been overdoing it.</i>Another aspect that impressed me was the direction in which Grossman takes the novel. I read a review at some point, which I can’t find anymore, which said something along the lines of “Grossman seems to have forgotten the reason he wrote The Magicians in the first place.” This made me worry that he would write a fantasy adventure which ignored Quentin’s crushing ennui, from which he perpetually suffers despite living in an amazing fantasy world (because problems are on the inside, kids!) Fortunately, this doesn’t happen at all. Quentin’s issues are still very much a part of the book, but Grossman moves forward with them and Quentin actually grows as a character. The Magicians was a concept novel in which the characters were serving the conceit. The Magician King, on the other hand, is Grossman taking the characters and developing them into something more; by the novel’s ending, Quentin is a much more mature, likeable and even selfless character than he was in The Magicians. The ending could also be considered a fucking bummer, but I found it quite uplifting and hopeful, which I’m pretty sure is the correct interpretation.Ultimately I think The Magicians is the stronger novel, simply for its originality, the fresh take it gave the childhood fantasy mythos. The Magician King falters at times, and is held together by a less coherent theme. But it’s still fun, funny, exciting and compulsively readable, with a bunch of great fantasy set-pieces and genuinely surprising character development. I greatly recommend this novel and its predecessor to fantasy fans, and I hope Grossman gives us a third one.
Review by ed.pendragon
A sequel to a successful novel is always a difficult task for a writer. A major dilemma is whether to stick to a successful formula or whether to plough new furrows in an attempt to avoid a sense of <i>déjà-vu</i>; either way risks alienating stern literary critics on the one hand or diehard fans on the other. One strategy is to combine both approaches, and Grossman’s second offering in a trilogy does exactly that: we’re dished up a lot of the same but also a fair seasoning of new elements which fortunately manage to refresh the taste buds.<i>The Magicians</i> focused its gaze on Quentin Coldwater as he entered Brakebills College, a centre for learning the discipline of magic. We saw how, through an obsession with a fantasy series written by one Christopher Plover, Quentin and a group of fellow Brakebills graduates eventually managed to visit the land of Fillory. However, something is rotten in the state of Fillory, and in combating the Beast (in whom Quentin had inadvertently awoken an unwelcome awareness of Brakebills) great sacrifices have to be made — not only severe injury but also a fate as bad as death. The first novel ends with Quentin, his Brakebills contemporaries Eliot and Janet, plus the frankly rather strange Julia, finding a way back to Fillory, life on Earth having proved rather, well, mundane.<i>The Magician King</i> opens with the quartet installed as kings and queens of Fillory, on its east coast, literally living the high life at Whitespire Castle. With everything at their beck and call the four monarchs soon find a lack of purpose leads to a sense of <i>ennui</i>, a listlessness the medievals called <i>accidie</i>. What they need is a quest and, as is the way of things, the quest soon finds them. Things are still not quite right in Fillory and Quentin hopes that, with the help of magical creatures, the search for seven golden keys will prove the antidote to all their problems.However, just as Quentin was the unfortunate cause of disasters in the first book, the true key to what is awry in the second book is down to a magical ritual in which Julia has taken part. Where we experienced events in <i>The Magicians</i> through Quentin’s eyes, now our attention switches between him and former friend Julia. Rejected by Brakebills, she has learnt her magic by unorthodox routes, and her backstory is interlaced with Quentin’s quest. In a clear nod to C S Lewis’ <i>The Voyage of the Dawn Treader</i> Quentin’s journey east towards the rising sun leads him through uncharted waters, through which he enlists the help of young cartographer Benedict and a bodyguard swordsman with the improbable name of Bingle. The end of <i>The Magician King</i> finds Quentin, after numerous contrasting episodes, in a position that he frankly didn’t expect.That subtle combination of new and old that I mentioned earlier is very much in evidence here. Our interest is not confined to Quentin, a likeable though not flawless protagonist, but takes in Julia, a fascinating if increasingly disturbed individual. Grossman also convincingly mixes in motifs from myth, folklore and classic literature — we have a really very chilling trickster figure, for example, and there’s even a <i>dea ex machine</i> — but it never feels artificial; the narrative maintains a logical sense of progression whilst being grounded in the believable personalities of the two main protagonists. In place of the bildungsroman aspect of the previous book — Quentin’s progress from student to adept status — we have Quentin’s quest; Arthurian romances are specifically referenced (and subverted, as the Malory quote “We shall now seek that which we shall not find” used as epigraph implies) but it’s the journey, not the arrival, that holds our attention.If people and things make up much of the stuff of stories so too are places, and we are presented with a series of scenarios that help to position us in the otherwise shifting sands of the action. Lands familiar from fairytales (castles, woods and the like) contrast with the dream-like aspect of the quest’s end; quasi-real locations (Chesterton, Massachusetts) and real places (Venice in Italy) jostle with the Neitherlands, the world between worlds that provides the interface between Earth and imaginary worlds like Fillory. The parlous state of the Neitherlands is another clear indication of magical misadventure; Grossman’s description of the various decaying buildings and piazzas are both a counterpart to Venice and to those Renaissance stage set designs by individuals such as Sebastiano Serlio, or those loci conjured up by medieval adepts practising the mnemonic technique of <i>ars memoriae</i>, the Art of Memory.Neither here nor there: not just an apt description of the Neitherlands but also of the middle instalment of a trilogy. Not quite a standalone, <i>The Magician King</i> nevertheless has a lot going for it. That also means that the final part, <i>The Magician’s Land</i>, has a lot to live up to.