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Monica Valentinelli

The Magician King Review

Posted on August 2, 2011 by Monica Valentinelli


Available at Amazon.com

    The Magician King is a novel penned by author Lev Grossman that follows after the events of The Magicians. Before I go any further, I want to point out two things: first, you may want to read my The Magicians review or our preview of The Magicians to help you recall the plot. Second? If you haven’t read the first book, I’m not certain you’ll enjoy this one as much, for reasons which I’ll get into shortly.

    As I mentioned above, The Magician King takes place after the events of The Magicians. Because of that, fair warning: I feel there is no possible way I can write this review without spoiling something for someone… So be kind to the reviewer. Please.

    A common complaint among readers I hear is whether or not magic has a “cost.” Grossman’s books marry the real world and the magical one, by diving into this current wholeheartedly. The deeper we get into the world of Fillory, the more we realize that “cost” may not necessarily be related to the law of physics. While there was tragedy and terror in the first book, here the “cost” runs the whole spectrum — the worst of which happens to the main characters, Quentin and Julia.

    The Magician King is a departure from the first book, in the sense that some of the accompanying characters we saw in The Magicians either fade into the background or are already there. I don’t have a feeling — good or bad — about this, but as an author myself I do notice when the structure of the story changes. Here, there are two types of plots that weave in-and-out of one another: what happened to Julia and why King Quentin must find seven keys to save Fillory. While you might expect that this is also mirrored by setting (e.g. Earth and Fillory-type places), that is not necessarily the case.

    Balancing real world problems with wonderment and discovery is a tough job for any author, and here I felt more drawn to Julia and her mysteries than to the fantastical elements of Fillory. I feel that this is my reaction as a result of the quest portion primarily taking place off-stage. So, by the time we get to the crucial moment, that anticipation I would normally feel isn’t as potent because of the different emphasis on location, foreshadow, and character.

    I don’t think this story could have been written any other way, because Julia’s tale had to be told. I “hear” Grossman’s voice when I read about her depression, her unbearable obsession with magic and her need to feel human. Quentin, on the other hand, also has a story to tell, but it’s one of regression — not progression. Despite all of the loss and all of the power he has, Quentin is “still” human. He’s still curious, whether or not he should be. He grieves. He struggles with leadership.

    And he’s still — almost to a fault — naive.

    After reading this story, though, I’m hoping there’s another book Grossman will toil endless hours over. I expect that novel would be a deeper dive into forbidden territory. While he only scratches the surface here, I want him to let loose with wild abandon the wonders and terrors that await us in…

    Well, I can’t tell you that. Because that really would spoil the story for you.

    If you pick up The Magician King, do it because you care about these characters and what happens to them. Don’t pick it up because you want to see more of the world, even though that is here, too. After all, this story is less about Fillory and more about what the relationship that we, as humans, are supposed to have with magic — and each other.

    Review by Monica Valentinelli

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