Magic is disappearing from Fillory, and the Neitherlands - the realm that is the "door" to Fillory from Earth - lies in ruins. To save Fillory, Quentin Coldwater, a Magician King of this realm, must embark upon a quest to save it and to save magic forever, searching for a set of golden keys that will rescue both from the dark fate awaiting them. An epic quest that will thrust him back to Earth, on a globe-trekking journey from his parents Chesterton, Massachusetts home to the canals of Venice, searching for a means to return to Fillory after being sent unexpectedly back to Earth. However, "The Magician King" is not just an epic fantasy novel about Quentin embarking on a hero's quest. It is also chronicles how Quentin's high school friend Julia became a magician in her own right, after flunking the Brakebills College entrance examination. "The Magician King" is as much her story as it is Quentin's. How she undertakes her own personal perilous journey to master magic, a dark form that she learns in a house inhabited by self-taught magicians in the urban jungle that is the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. A perilous journey that will also lead her to Venice, where she and her friends undertake a ritual to summon the old gods with disastrous consequences for all. Lev Grossman has written a darker, psychologically, intense sequel to "The Magicians", and one that literally overturns the notion that the hero earns his rewards at the very end. "The Magician King" demonstrates that Grossman has become the true heir to C. S.Read more ›
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111 of 119 people found the following review helpful
After the "Ever After"Aug. 9 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Can it possibly be only two years since I read Lev Grossman's The Magicians? If you asked me about that novel, I would immediately tell you that I loved it. Apparently, that's about all I could tell you. Having just read Grossman's engaging follow-up, I regret not having reread, or at least brushed up on, the first novel. References to prior events were plentiful, and rather than jog my memory, they highlighted just how fallible it is. Hopefully yours is better, or you will take the steps I didn't prior to reading the sequel. Oh, and it goes without saying that if you haven't read the first novel, don't start with this one.
Nonetheless, my inexact memory did not keep me from enjoying the latest adventures of Quentin Coldwater et al. Even I recalled that at the end of The Magicians Quentin, Julia, Elliott, and Janet had left our world to become the co-queens and kings of the magical (and not fictional after all) land of Fillory. The end. I thought that was the end. It was a good ending, and I didn't expect any more. As we catch up with Quentin and co., they are living their "happy ever after." It's glorious. It's perfect. It's boring. To some degree, this has ever been the issue of life in a magical world.
Quentin is itching for a quest, but this is countered by the reasonable fear of screwing up a perfect life. When a safe-looking mini-quest comes along, Quentin goes for it--and screws up his perfect life. The mini-quest evolves into a major-quest with the highest of stakes. While this primary drama is unfolding, there is a second story being told in reflection. The Magicians recounted the education and coming of age of Quentin, Elliott, and Janet. Finally we learn what "hedgewitch" Julia was doing all of those years, and how she learned her craft. It would be an understatement to say that she took a different path. It's a fascinating counterpoint. Along the way of these twin narratives, we meet many new characters and revisit old ones.
I've now read three of Mr. Grossman's four novels, and I've enjoyed all of them. If I had to pick out the one thing that sets his work apart, the word that comes to mind is "unpredictability." When you read as much as I do, a lot of storytelling becomes formulaic. This isn't always a bad thing. Formula can expedite storytelling or give shape to a narrative. In any case, I think most avid readers begin to get a feel for where a story is likely to go. But not with Mr. Grossman. I never know. I don't have a clue. I just know that he's going to pull something different and unexpected out of his magician's hat.
Additionally, it's always a pleasure to read his prose. And he's a champion at world-building. I adore the world he's created in Fillory, and the dozens and dozens of pop culture references found throughout the text increase the fun and anchor that world to the reality of our own. It's not merely Rowling and Lewis and Tolkien. It's Die Hard and Star Trek and D & D. It's Elmer Fudd, Dr. Suess, and GEB. It's Disney, Dr. Who, and Discworld--and too many more to ever list.
I've rated this novel down one star only because I didn't love it quite as much as its predecessor. I had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Grossman briefly at BEA. Expressing surprise at the sequel, I asked if there would be more books in the series. He told me that he thinks there will be a third, making it a trilogy. This second book comes to a shocking and unresolved conclusion. So, to Lev Grossman I say, "Damn straight there will be a third book!" It can't end like this. And while clearly I have NO idea where the tale will go, I WILL be along for the ride.
65 of 79 people found the following review helpful
Characters didn't love, fight or hateAug. 22 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Not as good as The Magicians. This book felt rushed to publication, as the author seemed to default to "the item magically appears so that quest could be completed..." theme over and over and over. My impression of the first book was that the reader would come to that same conclusion (that fortuitous events mystically occurred occasionally in order to move the quest along), but in the first book, such intervention of "fate" seemed indirect and subtle. In the sequel, the appearence of the missing items doesn't surprise the reader (or the characters within the story) and appeared to be the norm and not the exception.
I still love the author's books and his numerous references to modern events and terminology, but overall, the book was mildly disappointing. The first book seemed so "meaty," with exhaustive portions of the story containing riveting explanations of unusual people, places, events, emotions and relationships. (Who didn't love the development of friendships and antagonistic relationships at Brakebills?). The sequel, on the other hand, seems rushed, with very little for us to sink our teeth into. In the first book I found myself loving (and rooting for) many of the main characters and I empathized with so many of the characters in so many of the scenes. Who wasn't heartbroken when primary and secondary characters died in the first book?
In the sequel, the characters seemed to simply be scenery. They just seemed emotionally checked out and disconnected from each other (none of them seemed to rely on each other for anything in the least). I didn't find myself emotionally invested in the characters in the sequel. It almost seemed like most of the characters showed up for brief cameo appearences, but the characters almost didn't acknowledge each other being in the same scene at the same time and their friendships and their relationships didn't evolve. They didn't love, fight or hate. I think the author lost sight of the fact that we the readers loved the interaction between the characters in the first book most of all (even above the occurrence of the remarkable events themselves).
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Stuck in the Neitherlands - spoiler alertsAug. 29 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
The concept that drew me to these two books was that they're an adult literary treatment of a concept that has largely been addressed with either young adult or pulp adult writing and characters. I feel like The Magicians squeaked by in meeting that criteria (although the moral center did not hold). The Magician King does not. I think this does work as pretty good fantasy. There's a good deal of inventiveness, plot twists based on the created rules of the world, characters we basically care about. There's one very high quality creation in the gods which is severely underexploited. But overall, it's not great fantasy.
But it is definitely not literary. The quality of the writing has dropped significantly from the first book, and a great deal of it seems plain lazy. I don't think any of this would bother me except for the fact that I think Lev Grossman has the chops to do this right. There have been astounding sequences - e.g. Brakebills South, and I think that LG has brought a character to the page that is new to literature but common to life - nose to the grindstone type, with the realistic tradeoffs that are made to become good at something. There's a working metaphor with magic and writing that is working under the surface that he is able to tap to create a credible portrait of a teenager learning to become a powerful magician. That's no mean feat.
The book that comes to mind, and that I'm probably unfairly expecting, is The Corrections. The Corrections starts in the slang and quotidian of the suburbs, but elevates that life to literature. I think part of the reason that this works is that The Corrections knows what it is: literature. There's a burden on it to raise and explore a moral question, and if not to answer it, then to suggest why the answer is difficult to arrive at.
The Magicians starts in that vein, and there are legitimate moral questions to address: how do you live life without magic, once you know it exists? That's a fantastic metaphor, and something that almost all of us address in our lives when we see people operating in a profession that we are unable to break into. How many actors are there trying to get a movie? How man movie stars that want to direct? A lazy example, but we all have them, barring perhaps a very few that succeed on their own terms in their chosen field.
/***************Spoiler Alert*********************************/ Does the Magicians end on that note and address the question, no, it steps away by whisking Quentin into magicland as soon as the answers get difficult. Does the Magician King? Maybe, but credits roll immediately, so there's no exploration of a viable answer. Every time somebody almost loses magic, they get it back, so the author himself seems to be having a hard time getting off the (magic) sauce. Good luck for his characters.
There's some sort of moral teaching about sacrifice and maturity, but that doesn't rise to the level of interesting for me. More importantly, it's not a question that has to be answered with this world, magic doesn't have that much to do with it. You could bring up the same thing in a GI Joe cartoon if you left out the parachutes. /**************End Spoiler Alert*************************/
In the end, I feel like these books don't know what they want to be. When there's a difficult moral question, magic resolves it or alleviates it. When there's a time to dazzle with imagination, there are ironic borrowings (sure, they're allusions) to suggest that the book is a literary commentary on the genre. In the end, neither the criteria for literature or fantasy are quite satisfied. It works as decent fantasy with some gen x, bordering on y material, but I'm too old to be reading something like that, and in the end, I'm a little embarrassed I spent my time this way.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Like the second serving of an excellent dessert--Aug. 14 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
After hearing about "The Magicians" on NPR, I picked up the first book in this series and was completely enthralled. It was a rewarding exploration of a problem that is rarely addressed--what could possibly motivate a character who, through power or technology, can address every level of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs...except, of course, for those difficult-to-get ones like meaning, self-knowledge, and so on. It was a Postmodern Harry Potter (I mean that in only the nicest possible way)--ironic, disdainful of happy endings, and realistic.
At this point, the only seriously negative review of this book on Amazon points out that it's thick with in-jokes and pop culture references. And it is, and in a certain sense that's an easy, jarring, almost parasitic sort of humor, I can see how it might seriously put a wrench in one's suspension of disbelief. But in Grossman's world the device adds to the feeling of being immersed in the geek/internets jaded, referential culture--and I think it reflects how Grossman's characters, at least at the beginning of their story arcs, are consumers rather than producers. Until we meet Julie, our wizards are fonts of received wisdom, brilliant students perhaps, but inward-focused beasts more enthralled with their own wit and personal tragedies than putting their near-omnipotence into any meaningful use. I'm strongly reminded of Pamela Dean's "Tam Lin" title, where the characters spin delightful chains of wit, fabulous crystals of logophilia that could only develop in the zero-G environment of fiction.
Aaanyway...I did love this book, it might actually have been as good a story as the first. But it was a bit "more of the same," without the magic of discovery of the first book--for the characters (well, except for Julie, her "origins" story carries through the book and keeps the sparkle of the new in the title), and for the reader, who is now already aware of the epidemic of Weltschmerz in the magical community. It was a solid book, but the first one was fresh and new, the second is a happy return to the first one's ideas--and probably not a very satisfying stand-alone novel.
The title leans rather heavily on Narnia, and a lot of the fun of the book was in how those ideas were woven into this title in a big way--if the first book was 30something JK Rowling, the second is the same for CS Lewis. I'm not sure if this is a bad thing, but I am reminded of why the "Allegory" literary style died out--creating 1:1 correspondences is a little artless. I'm absolutely not saying that this was the case here, I felt that the book used Narnia tropes in a most satisfactory way, but if a college professor (or an amazon reviewer) wrote "derivative, see me" on this thesis, they could make a solid case for an A-, or even a B+.
24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Something went seriously wrong (Spoilers)Jan. 1 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
I enjoyed the first book despite its shortcomings and looked forward to reading this sequel. I even paid full price for both. Now that I have read the sequel, I can't say that I feel the same way about its inevitable follow-up.
We start with Quentin and the three people who picked him up at the end of the last book (Julia, Eliot, and Janet) well established as the rulers of Fillory. Like Narnia, which Grossman rips off even more blatantly in this book than he did in the last, Fillory has two kings and two queens. We skipped over exactly why or how this came to be and no explanation is offered in this book. We DO get a detailed explanation for how Julia became a magician without an acceptance to Brakebills. The story is interesting, but I disliked it for personal reasons. I just take umbrage with any person, fictional or non, who blames their failures on other people. Julia's story is filled with whining about how she deserved to get into Brakebills and she blames everyone except herself for flunking the exam that got her rejected in the first place. INCLUDING QUENTIN, which suddenly becomes a major plot point in the last ten pages of the novel. And since Grossman never establishes that she even WANTED to be a magician in the first place, her attitude is even harder to deal with. Why is she so determined to get into a world she never had much desire to join in the first place? She just wants it because she can't have it. And [BIG SPOILER ALERT!!] that story ends with a crazy rape scene that just pops out of the blue with zero warning and zero context or relevance. There's much to be said about a male author who subjects a female character to rape and then tries to use that as some kind of empowerment.
So first the story is Quentin wanting a quest or some adventure to take him out of his palatial boredom. That veers into Quentin getting moved back to Earth by accident, then trying to get back. Once he gets back, he joins a quest that's nearly over, we get one confusing "action" scene that is honestly very poorly written, and then we learn about a huge, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it danger 3/4ths of the way through the book. Luckily, this danger can be solved by completing the quest THEY'RE ALREADY ON. And then Surprise!, fifty pages later, quest's over and the danger is gone. WE SEE NO ACTION in this book except for the aforementioned bad scene. There are DRAGONS in this book and it's STILL BORING!! How does that happen? Something somewhere went seriously wrong in the writing of this novel. My guess is that Grossman decided to rip off "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" practically verbatim then wimped out of that and cobbled together another story to staple onto that one instead. If you're going to rip something off, just go for it! Do it all the way, or don't do it at all. Like the crew of the Dawn Treader, the characters here sail east to various islands looking for lost things that are scattered across the Eastern sea. As they go, the sea gets more shallow and the sun gets more intense, until they reach a place where the world ends. UNLIKE Dawn Treader, we don't actually get to see most of the islands they visit, even though they're named on the map in the front and back of the book. Eliot sums them all up in once sentence for Quentin, and we move right along to the END of that story. In another scene, a character returns to announce that there will be a battle waged between Gods and magicians, and that DRAGONS are helping them fight it. All these dragons burst out, then Quentin leaves to go do something else. WE DON'T GET TO SEE THE DRAGON FIGHT.
What kind of a writer comes up with or rips off awesome ideas for a story, then FAILS to actually WRITE ABOUT THEM?? Why the heck did he choose to ONLY write about the boring parts of this journey? I would have preferred to follow them on their sea adventure and have Quentin show up and briefly explain the boring crap he did on Earth while everyone else was having a good time. Quentin simply isn't an interesting enough character to follow unless he's doing something pretty cool. I didn't realize that in the last book because he WAS doing something that was interesting to read about, and Grossman wrote it pretty well. That is not the case here.
Sorry there are so many spoilers in this review, but I just don't know how to explain my frustration with it without spoiling things a bit. And summing up that frustration in words was harder than I thought it would be. The bottom line is that Grossman had all the plot elements and ingredients to make this book good, but he mixed them all up and told them in the wrong order and in the wrong way, so all we're left with is a peek at what the book COULD have been if he'd handled it better. It's a mess, is what I am trying to say. It's just a really complete and total mess. VERY disappointing.
Based on how things "end" there will have to be a sequel to this. I won't be reading it unless I get a free copy and have a lot of free time.