Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magician King

The Magician King is the sequel to Lev Grossman's The Magicians.  Both borrow heavily from the Harry Potter and the Narnia series.  Like Harry Potter Quentin Coldwater finds that magic is real and soon matriculates at a Brakebills, a college for magicians.  Even better he discovers that Fillory, the Narnia like world he grew up reading about, is real. 

I had mixed feelings about The Magicians and have mixed feeling about this sequel, though I did like this one more.  The problem is Quentin, the main character of the series.  In the first book he is a smart and disillusioned teenager who wishes life was more like it is in the Fillory novels.  High school isn't so great, but then he gets into Brakebills and his life changes for the better.  Of course, everything isn't perfect.  Even in a world where magic is real bad things can happen, consequences have actions, and people die.  Still, overall Quentin gets almost everything he ever wanted.  The Magician King picks up where The Magicians left off, with Quentin essentially living his dream. He is one of the four royals who rule Fillory. He lives a life of luxury and ease, and he's bored.  Although his life isn't perfect, it is pretty great and he is still complaining.  It is difficult to feel sorry for him and very easy to be annoyed by him. 

The problem with Quentin is that he wants life to be like a book or a movie.  He want a high stakes adventure full of danger and close calls where he gets to play the part of the hero.  At the same time, he wants the safety of there always being a happy ending.  At the end of The Magicians it seems Quentin has learned his lesson - life can be full of adventure, but a happy ending isn't guaranteed.  In The Magician King it seems that Quentin has forgotten all that he learned.  He embarks on a mini-quest to an island to collect taxes from delinquent taxpayers.  He sets sail across the ocean, meets some new people and has a good time, but it is not enough.  So it is on to a second quest that begins with a magic key that opens a door that leads to who knows where.  Of course he goes without thinking and immediately regrets his decision.  Julia, another one of the royals, accompanies him, but really it's Quentin's story.

In addition to Quentin's quest there is a second plot thread centering around Julia.  A bit of background here - In The Magicians potential witches and wizards must take an entrance exam to get into magic college.  Those who pass are invited to attend Brakebills, and those who don't have their memories of the magic test erased and are sent back to resume their normal lives.  Quentin passed the exam and Julia didn't.  Somehow though the memory erasure spell didn't quite work on Julia and by the end of The Magicians she has found her way to the world of magic and becomes of the four royals (along with Quentin, Janet and Eliot) who rule Fillory.  Her journey left her damaged in some way that isn't entirely clear.  In The Magician King we find out how she fought her way to Fillory.  Like Quentin Julia is not the most likable character, but at least she is an interesting character.

Quentin and Julia take turns being the center of attention and of the two, I enjoyed Julia's story a bit more.  They both went on a kind of quest - Julia because she needed to, Quentin because he was bored.  In the end Quentin's quest turns out to be important for all of the magical world.  Once again Quentin gets his wish - an adventure where the stakes really matter and he gets to play the hero.  But the bigger picture of why Quentin's quest is important for everyone isn't made apparent till close to the end.  With Julia I always had a sense of what was at stake for her. 

I'm not entirely sure who to recommend this book to.  I guess if you liked Harry Potter and Narnia, there is a good chance you'll like this.  Personally I loved the Harry Potter series but was always a bit bored by Narnia.  Perhaps that is why I have such mixed feelings about this series.

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