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Cannonball Read V: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

By alwaysanswerb | Book Reviews | September 24, 2013 | Comments ()


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Goodreads summary: 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.

The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an epic quest for the Harry Potter generation. It also introduces a powerful new voice, that of Julia, whose angry genius is thrilling.

I’ll start by saying I liked this sequel better than the first book, The Magicians. I found the pacing to be more consistent, which may be because less narrative ground is covered overall in this story. Chapters alternate between the present, in which Quentin and Julia try to get back to Fillory, and the past, which explain Julia’s backstory.

More importantly, The Magician King worked on redeeming Quentin in my eyes. He’s written here as still flawed, but not insufferable. A big change seems to be that in the first book, despite some moments of insecurity, he still more or less rests on his laurels of being a “genius” and a magician. He’s complacent and egotistical, and especially once he finds out he’s a magician, he flaunts a nauseating superiority complex. However, here in the sequel, as a king of Fillory, he seems to want to do more and prove himself. This change is evident fairly early on, when Quentin insists on embarking on a tax-collecting voyage that others point out doesn’t need to be undertaken by the king of Fillory. Despite their misgivings, Quentin senses an adventure calling to him, and his restlessness at sitting in the castle drives him toward the unexplored destination. When he is directly challenged, such as when he is confronted with Julia’s mastery of street sorcery, he sometimes reverts back to his superciliousness, but overall by the end I’d consider him much more humbled and respectful than he was at the end of the first novel.

The narrative chapters focusing on Julia herself were also an engaging, welcome addition. Her introduction and training in the world of magic is a fascinating — and sometimes devastating — counterpoint to Quentin’s (rather sterile in comparison) magical education at Brakebills. For all of the Brakebills graduates’ posturing about their magical superiority, the trials Julia faces in order to reach the upper echelons of street wizardry seem just as, if not more, challenging than those posed to Brakebills students throughout their education. And though during this go around, Quentin does seem to demonstrate himself as able to solve problems and conjure appropriate spells on his own, Julia demonstrates on numerous occasions that she is just as good, if not better, than he is. The catch, though, is that Julia has achieved all this at the price of part of her soul. She’s no perfect Mary Sue; she’s empathetic and intelligent, but deeply troubled on a level that the other characters don’t understand.

I wasn’t completely satisfied with the end of this book. As much as I rag on Quentin, what ended up happening to him seemed deeply unfair. Since this will allegedly be a trilogy though, I won’t harp too much on it. Overall, I’d say that while the premise and plotline set up in the first book (kid discovers he’s a magician! learns magic! finds new world!) is more immediately gripping than this one (king got shut out of his world and needs to get back! quest for magic artifacts that will let him do that!) the writing is a lot tighter here and the characters slightly more relatable.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it , and find more of alwaysanswerb’s reviews on the group blog.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • lonolove

    It has been awhile since I read these books, but I remember I really liked The Magicians. It made sense to me that they were arrogant asswipes carried away by their own power (what teenager wouldn't be?), so even though they were dickbags, it didn't ruin it for me. I felt that The Magician King was WAY too dark though...I remember being really excited to read the sequel and then being taken aback by Julia's backstory. Like, DAMN.

  • KatSings

    I read them both back to back several years ago and feel exactly the opposite. I go more in depth on my CBR blog, but I hated Julia and her narrative, especially compared to Alice. I wanted more growth from Quentin than I got, and thought the use if Gods was trite. I adored the first one. To each their own!

  • splinter

    i couldn't get enough of julia's back story. it was riveting. quentin didn't bother me too much. looking forward to the final installment.

  • IngridToday

    I hated Quentin by the end of first book. I just wanted Alice to punch him in his smug face. He never took any responsibility (or even seemed to acknowledge) that he's the reason their relationship ended. Instead he acts like she was sleeping around on him. Alice went from being a strong character to sad hero's girlfriend who's sole purpose is to be belittled and risk her life to protect the hero-who's openly a dick to her. So yeah, fuck Quentin.
    I loved Julia and how the second book continues to make the point that Quentin is really mid-level compared to Julia and the guy living in the portal world. The street magic world was so much more interesting then Brakebills.
    I do have a serious problem with the second book, which is how Julia gets incredibly powerful. I don't want to spoil anything, but, if someone could find a better explanation beyond she had to get ----- in order to gain a bunch of magic. I would love to hear it. I will give the author credit for dealing with what happens to Julia and how traumatized she is.

  • I was a bit ambivalent about the first book and wasn't curious enough to see the douchebags continue on their magical adventure (yes I'm calling all the characters in the book douchebags). However your review has sparked my interest so I'll be snagging this at the library. Thanks for sharing :)

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