The Magician King: Lev Grossman
September 21, 2011 | Reviews
The moment I opened up the cover to The Magician King, I was awash with the feeling that I was visiting with old friends. Friends with dangerous powers who lean towards mental instability, but friends nonetheless. This is part of what hooked me while reading The Magicians, often times characters in fantasy novels are never quite relatable. Their characteristics (bravery, selflessness, etc.) are so extreme that they seem like superheroes (or supervillains). The crew of the Magicians series, on the other hand, are far from perfect. They have grand adventures and commit heroic deeds, but they are also selfish sometimes. They get depressed sometimes. They take things for granted. In other words, they are human. These imperfections make the characters more visceral, more real. I know people like Janet and Elliot (minus the powers). I’ve felt Quentin’s sense of restlessness before. The fact that the characters are crafted to be so perfectly imperfect makes the whole fantasy aspect feel more valid somehow, almost reasonable. The Magician King, like The Magicians, is a novel that pulled me in right away.
The Magician King opens up with Quentin, Julia, Janet, and Elliot, who are now the kings and queens of Fillory, all out on a royal hunt. They are searching for the Seeing Hare, one of the Unique Beasts of Fillory. Each beast is imbued with a magical power/purpose, the Seeing Hare’s power being the ability to tell the future of the one who catches it. Quentin in particular is already starting to feel bored of his royal trappings and sees catching the hare as his ticket to real adventure. Adventure does follow this outing, but it is of a more dangerous variety than Quentin could have anticipated.
After a blanket prediction of death from the Seeing Hare, things quickly start going wrong in Fillory when a royal steward is randomly murdered. Under the guise of wanting to keep up appearances to the public (but really wanting to go on a new adventure), Quentin swiftly volunteers to go on a tax collecting mission to the Outer Islands. However, the trip goes horribly awry when Quentin and Julia are unexpectedly and inexplicably thrown out of Fillory into the decidedly less magical realm of Massachusetts. Their only chance for surviving lies with the one of them who had to work outside the system to gain their magical powers: Julia. Using her back-alley knowledge, they dive into society’s magical undercurrent in hopes of returning to (and saving) Fillory.
Often times, sequels have the general feel of “been there, done that”. Perhaps out of fear of not matching the success of the first novel, the author refuses to change their formula in any major way. What the novel ends up being is the same characters in a slightly different adventure. This is not so with The Magician King. Lev Grossman takes the characters we know from The Magicians and gives them new dimensions (Julia in particular). The formatting is even different, switching back and forth from the present day to scenes from Julia’s troubled magical past. Grossman manages the tricky balancing act of making the characters and scenes comfortingly familiar, yet fresh and new at the same time. I very highly recommend The Magician King (and The Magicians if you haven’t read it).