Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Title: The Magician King
Author: Lev Grossman

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Fantasy / Magic / Venice)
Publisher/Publication Date: Viking Books (8/9/2011)
Source: The publisher

Rating: Okay.
Did I finish?: I did, in one long evening.
One-sentence summary: Two magicians -- one formally schooled, one guerrilla trained -- quest to keep the magical universe from disappearing.

Do I like the cover?: I suppose, but like the cover to The Magicians, I don't think it exactly fits the novel.

First line: Quentin rode a gray horse with white socks named Dauntless.

Did... I like this book more than the first one?: YES. Briefly, running into Quentin was like seeing a friend's ex (I totally rolled my eyes) but I found him to be a changed man and I liked him more than I did.

Am... I going to pick up the third book?: YES. I'm especially interested to see where Grossman pushes the genre and the typical plots.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow, especially if you've read the first book.

Why did I get this book?: I had heard such good things about The Magicians I was eager to plunge in to the trilogy.

Review: I enjoyed this book more than The Magicians; this was more the novel I wanted when I started the trilogy.  It feels less like a fanboy fantasy, although it still has echoes of other works; in this case, Gaiman's American Gods meets C.S. Lewis.

Unlike the first book, I found the hero Quentin to be far more tolerable (if not actually funny at moments), and I loved the way Grossman played with the English fantasy motif.  What would it be like ruling faux-Narnia if you're an adult? Kind of boring. What is questing like when you've got more logic than a child? Kind of difficult. Grossman's writing style is marvelous and in this second book, he's far funnier. There were a handful of laugh-out-loud moments; Quentin's wry take on his life was refreshing.  (He thankfully stopped taking himself so seriously.)  There's more magical world-building in this novel, an exploration into the source of magic, and I found it interesting and weird in equal part.


For a good chunk of the novel, sex was absent, a development I welcomed -- until I realized that Grossman was using sex to show us how gritty the magic world can be. (In the first book, sex was freeing, or at least, provided pleasure.)  Even though Quentin and his friends whined in the first book about being the outcasts and misfits, they had it easy, going to magic college and basking in their magical adult existence.  Certainly, they faced painful challenges, but walked away with mere physical injuries.  In this novel, Quentin's story is split with Julia's (a high school friend of his from the first book), and unlike most the other magicians, her school-of-hard-knocks magic education is replete with sexual degradation.

I don't mind darker themes and I don't mind a harder edge to my fantasy -- but I want it doled out in equal part.  Sparing all the male magicians while making the women all victims is frustrating, and whatever pay out comes at the end never feels enough to make the violence okay.  It's disappointing and frustrating and frankly, feels cheap.  

This was a hard quibble to overcome, and I was about 80% done with the novel when I thought I might have to give up.  But I finished, and I enjoyed the novel for what it was (my expectations were tempered), and I'm going to read the third book.  Fans of the first book will want to pick this one up for sure but if you haven't read the first book, I'm not sure diving in to this one is the way to go.  While some of the first book is recapped or referenced, much of what happened isn't, and references are made to people and places without explanation.  Take a few long weekends to check out both books, then come back so we can chat -- I'm dying to discuss them!


  1. I've had The Magician on my shelf for quite awhile now; it looks like I really need to start this series.

  2. @Trisha: I'd love to chat about them if you do end up reading them! I would also recommend reading them near each other -- I've seen a few reviewers who didn't do a reread say they'd forgotten some details from The Magicians that were relevant in this book.

  3. I am not sure about these, I am just very very torn and not sure I would like them

  4. @Blodeuedd: Yeah, I'm not sure what to advise. I have a friend who loves angst-y fanfic so she was less bothered by Quentin than I. I just couldn't shake my frustration that Grossman's take on fantasy had to repeat some of the same light misogyny so often seen in fantasy lit.

  5. I read Jenny's review the other day, and she also agrees that this book is better than the first. I am not sure I would read these, particularly since the first book seemed to be a slog, but it's interesting to note that this book was so much better, so I might break down and try them.

  6. I've been wary of these as the reviews are so mixed. I'm intrigued, but I think I'll wait for the third book before starting them!

  7. @Heather & Carrie: They're fast reads and probably in the category of light literary fantasy (the way Jennifer McMahon is literary thriller, I suppose) -- the writing is good -- but the story isn't all that original nor the hero that appealing. If either of you do read, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

    Carrie -- do wait for the third as I've seen a few reviewers say they wished they'd done a reread before tackling the second book. Do all three close together.

  8. hmmm, i have the first book waiting in the wings. now, hmmm.

  9. Oh thank goodness! Someone to talk to about it.

    See? Wasn't is WAY better than the first one?

    Q still bugged the hell out of me, but he was better - if only because I had to see him a lot less.

    And how ridiculous am I? I didn't even realize there was another book.

  10. @Vee: If you do tackle these, I would looooove to discuss with you. V curious to see what you think of them!

    @Picky: YES, definitely way better than the first one, blessedly. I actually minded Q even less, although his relentless need for more made me roll my eyes.

  11. I haven't read any of these books, but I'm not one for magician books.

  12. My copy of this novel should show up in my mailbox this week or next. I did have a few issues with the first book but have been looking forward to the sequel anyway. I'm glad that you think this one is an improvement over The Magicians.