Friday, September 16, 2011


The Magician King, Lev Grossman, Viking Penguin, 2011, 400 pp

Lev Grossman, that world-weary, fairly hip nerd, is back with his sequel to The Magicians. The first book in what will eventually be a trilogy, thrilled and entertained me with all it insider nods to Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. He answered the question of whether adult magicians can survive in the 21st century real world with a resounding no! Our hero, Quentin Coldwater, grew up just a little thanks to having faced actual danger and heavy loss.

The Magician King could only require Quentin to move on to the second stage in a modern version of coming-of-age tales. The novel opens with Quentin living the pampered life of one of the Kings of Fillory, though his friend Elliot got to be High King. Frankly, Quentin is bored and yearns for more adventure. It is not so good to be King when you find out that having all your dreams come true only leads to an expanding waistline.

In his self-involved and impulsive way, Quentin dives in to plenty of adventure and spends much of the book in over his head, both in Fillory and back in the real world. He wants to be a hero, but of course he wants the glory. He gets the pain and more loss. You could say that the message here is "growing up is a bitch, if you live."

All Quentin all the time would be way too much, so Grossman turns to Julia, the one who loved Quentin's friend James, the one who did not get into Brakebills, the one who is now improbably Quentin's Queen.

It is Julia's back story of what she had to survive in order to acquire magic in the unofficial, non-Brakebills sanctioned hinterlands that makes The Magician King a gripping tale. She turns out to be the heroine you can't look away from. Neither can Quentin, at least in those rare moments when he thinks of anyone but himself. Julia is involved in some deep magic that borders on mysticism.

Lev Grossman has given us another fabulous read but a few days after coming out of the spell he casts, I found some worrying doubts creeping in. I will spare you my convoluted thought process, my discussions with other readers. I arrived at the conclusion that possibly Mr Grossman was trying for something deeper this time, was God forbid looking for a moral to the story. The trouble is he is not C S Lewis, he ain't got religion, and he can't stop joking or being ironic.

It's OK. I can't really fault him too much. I am dying to read the third book. In these days of the coming singularity, perhaps I won't have to wait another two years. I suppose I could read the last two Harry Potter books while I am waiting.

(The Magician King is available in hardcover and e-book by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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