It is unusual when a following book is better than the original, and even more rare when considering that the first book is marvelous in its own right. In the first book Quentin was somewhat pathetic, but you loved him even so (one of those negative people who is never satisfied, regardless), he was an antihero who yearned to be a hero. But discovering Breakbills through Quentin's eyes was nonetheless magical, and haunting, and when the first book ends you pretty much have to go back and read it again. Book 2, The Magician King is even more all that than the first book, replete with Julia's experiences, and Julia is probably even a better character than Quentin, although her unbelievable constant fury matches Quentin's omnipresent ingratitude and teenage lack of direction. Julia and Quentin are both utterly believable as highly intelligent, unique-thinking braniacs (Grossman is brilliant, in dialogue, characterization, and plotting). Fillory is much more engrossing in this second book and finally provides a worthy contender to C.S. Lewis' Narnia (albeit a raunchy, F-bomb laced Narnia, drunken and drugged). There is a lot of raunchy language, but The Magician King is haunting and beautiful, and quite a read, and more satisfying than the first book (which was quite satisfying, read it first). Mark Bramhall as narrator is skilled and sophisticated (and I keep thinking I'm listening to David Hyde Pierce's Niles Crane, with a slight cold, and a little drunk on cough syrup, but his voice changes and delivery is masterful). Great book, and worth the wait! Art et Amour Toujours
I'm a voracious audiobibliophile, mainly interested in speculative fiction, with the occasional mimetic fiction or non-fiction title sneaking in.
After 2009's groundbreaking The Magicians, Lev Grossman takes his "hero" Quentin on a hero's quest, by ship, magic gate, hell, and high water. Where the first book saw classroom scenes of painstaking practice and learning, here Quentin, Eliot, Janet, and Julia are the kings and queens of Fillory and have been for a good while -- long enough for boredom to set in, and Quentin realizes that he really must find something to do. That something turns out to be a tax collection at the Outer Island, setting Quentin and Julia off on a magical, poorly understood ship East into the half-charted seas. There may or may not be a magical golden key which winds the world. There may or may not be dragons. There are prices to pay. Then there is the other half of the novel. Interleaved with the story of Quentin's hero's quest are "the Julia chapters", filling in the backstory of Julia, one of Quentin's childhood friends, left behind when Quentin passed the entrance exam for Brakebills. Slowly, Julia unravels, at the same time unraveling the mystery of what happened to her, and discovering that there is a world -- an ad-hoc, more jagged-edged world -- of magic beyond Brakebills, found in basements and squatted buildings and various other safe houses. Through these compelling, moving, memorable chapters we see the price Julia had to pay for her magic, with both storylines coming together for a stunning finish and very satisfying denouement. On the narration: Once again, Bramhall brings his at-times delicate and heartbreaking, at other times sarcastic and dry, narration back to wonderful life. Particularly memorable in The Magician King is his characterization of the whiny, bookish Benedict, as well as the greater beings encountered along the way. Throughout, he builds a magical atmosphere and tone, never saccharine, maintaining the perfect knife's edge between the fragile and the real, charting well the heady waters of a truly worthy sequel to one of the new century's great fantasies.
After finishing the second book, I am wondering if the polarity of the first book was actually between people who have experienced the spinning wheels of significant depression, anxiety, or other mental malady and those who have not. ( For those who have not, good for you, stay healthy! ) Lev Grossman's ability to convey what it feels like to be a smart person suffering from depression and ennui hits a bit close to the bone, but that is what makes the characters ring deeply true.
The second book is likely to hit a nerve differently than the first book. The result is that, as our anti-hero muddles along, there are plenty of new emotional hurdles to face as a reader.
The bottom line is that I continue to both love and struggle with this story. That, to me, is the mark of literature.
Make no mistake: We're all mammals here.
The follow-up to a really great work often pales in comparison to what went before, but The Magician King is, if anything, better than The Magicians. The story is even more riveting, and it is intricately and expertly told, with two plot-lines that appear to have little to do with each other coming together in the end in a surprising way to sum up the whole story. In the first book we learned about how Quentin came by his magic. In this book we learn about Julia, as her magical education is explained in a seemingly unrelated side story that actually climaxes as the main story also climaxes, the two becoming one.
I can't wait until book 3.
I am going to start this with a secondarily related commentary: What on earth are you all thinking who put spoilers in your reviews? If I wanted to read a poorly written paragraph long summation of the major plot points, I wouldn't be downloading a 15 hour+ book to listen to.
In any case, on to the actual review.
Grossman takes the capital he built in The Magicians and redoubles his efforts. The primary cast returns with some notable and brilliant additions. A broad sweeping fantasy epic which switches between two primary story lines flawlessly, The Magician King explores concepts of loss, love, sacrifice, and ultimately, what it means to be the hero of your own story.
Bramhall does a magnificent job once more- I can't imagine anyone else reading these books at this point.
I agree with what one reviewer said- there seem to be two 'camps' of people who either love or hate this series. If you are looking for spoon fed and neutered magical story time where everything works out perfectly in the end, this is really not the book for you. If you've ever made horrible decisions with the best intentions, have a realist's view of the human condition, or can understand satire and allegory, you might really love this book. Yes there is profanity and "adult concepts". This isn't a children's book...
This is a bittersweet book which plumbs the depths of its characters and, by proxy, the listener. If you can't identify with something or someone in this book, I think it's time to live a more adventurous life for a bit.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
The Magicians, the novel that preceded this one, was one of my favorite works of fantasy of recent years. Grossman took the sugary soda pop of novels like the Harry Potter or Narnia series, and spiked it with a stiff shot of vodka. Instead of cute, well-mannered kids, the protagonists become a group of brilliant, angsty, self-absorbed young adults, who go to a special school to learn a lot of complicated magic, but don't pick up a whole lot of maturity or direction to go with it. Indeed, there's strangely little for them to DO after graduation, at least not until their poking around with powers above their heads reveals a dangerous world they all thought was fictional.
Had it just been a sardonic send-up of cherished works of children's fiction, I might not have enjoyed it so much, but under the hood, it also felt like a metaphor for the coming of age of the more privileged members of the generation that read all those Harry Potter books. A blurring line between fantasy and reality? Check. Too much power at one's fingertips? Check. Being well-trained to jump through hoops without necessarily being well-prepared to make good decisions? Check. An absent older generation? Check.
However, you can’t make a series out of gifted youth disaffection and parodying CS Lewis, and so The Magician King offers its characters the opportunity to grow up. For Quentin, now one of Fillory’s four rulers, the chance comes after the boredom of an easy life in the royal palace inspires him to set off on a diplomatic mission to the far end of the kingdom. As one might expect, this minor quest unlocks a much bigger one, which drags our mopey hero and various friends back to Earth and to other places, teaching him lessons about heroism, sacrifice, and seeing the potential of others. Those readers who felt there wasn't enough plot in The Magicians might be pleased that there's more structure in this outing, though I thought all the place-hopping got to be a little too on rails. Sure, Quentin makes fewer bad decisions, but more often than not, the right pathway simply lines up in front of him. Go through this door because, well, the talking sloth says so.
Grossman also uses this book to fill in the backstory of Julia, who got rejected by Brakebills in the first book, suffered the kind of emotional breakdown one might expect from a brittle overachiever who doesn't get into Harvard, and then disappeared until the end, at which point we learned that she somehow picked up magic on her own. Here, flashbacks interspersed with the main story reveal exactly how that happened, and introduce us to a gnarlier, off-the-grid alternative magic community. To be honest, I found this tale a bit of a slog, given that Julia's as unlikable as the other characters were in Book One, albeit in a fiercer way. But it's not uninteresting, and expands the world in ways that'll no doubt figure into Book Three. Until now, we’ve only seen the bored, bourgeois side of magic education -- here we get the Fight Club kind.
The story also answers a few other questions, some probably of more interest to readers. We learn more about the forces behind the magical multiverse (old and powerful, of course), meet some new characters, and find out what became of Josh and Penny. And plenty of groundwork is laid for a sequel.
All in all, The Magician King, if not as bracingly original as its predecessor, carries forward its momentum without too many stutters. More than just Harry Potter with f-bombs, it’s “adult” fantasy in the truest sense: the magic isn’t safe, the people best suited to it are flawed, and being a hero can come with steep costs. As before, Grossman continues to balance a dark, smartly sardonic sense of humor with a world whose unreality is genuinely haunting. And as before, it's a rather narrow, self-aware audience that will see much of themselves in his characters, but, if you do, this series might speak to you.
I would certainly recommend the audio version. IMO, Bramhall’s slightly arch but sophisticated reading finds the grain of the story while buffering some of Grossman’s snarkiness.
I read the reviews and was pleasantly surprised to confirm that they were accurate. I enjoyed the ride and especially loved that this was more of an "adult" magic story - if this world existed I'm sure it would be very similar to the picture that was painted here.
Great audio! Very original and just as great as the first. If you liked the first you will like this one too... However, if you didn't like the first, it is a different plot, but with the same style of writing as the first.
Most sequels that follow a really fantastic first book usually fall flat and lack the magic, the imagination, and the originality of the first; this is not the case with The Magician King. Grossman succeeds in pulling the reader even further into the magical side of the world, and the other worlds, that he created in The Magicians. This expertly crafted tale explores the growth and changing world views of the characters in a breathtakingly realistic way through both internal and external dialogue. In short, the story is captivating, enthralling, and perfectly paced. The only two problems were a result of the reader, Mark Bramhall, who, although a wonderfully gifted and talented reader, consistently mispronounces the word sloth (as 'sloath') and a poorly done Australian accent that is reminiscent of Steve Irwin mocking (which is easily forgiven, as performing accents is incredibly challenging for even the most seasoned actors). The rest of the reading is the consummate Bramhall - perfection. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoyed The Magicians - if you liked the Magicians, you will love The Magician King.
Book blogger at Bookwi.se
As much as I enjoy books stealing ideas and remaking stories (like Fuzzy Nation or Orson Scott Card's Enchanted), Lev Grossman has soured me on the concept for a while.
I was not a big fan of the first book of this series, The Magicians. I thought it was really well written and had some great ideas. But I just did not like the characters. But I still wanted to read the second book. It was written so well, I figured the second would have to be better.
After having read it, I think this opening line from an Amazon review gets it exactly right. "Joyless, dismal, and cynically nihilistic--that was the first novel in this series."
This book I think is just as well written, but even more cynical. The characters have not learned anything. At least in the first book they were teens and might have some justification for being self centered. Now they are older. They are kings and queens in a Narnia like world where they have everything they could ever want. The economy is magical so everyone is prosperous. There is very little fighting or disagreement. And there is even the occasional quest to go on.
But Quentin, the main character, is never happy. In the last book he found everything he wanted, he was a magician, he had a wonderful girlfriend, he could get anything he wanted and he even found a way to Fillory, the setting of the series of magical books that he loved as a child. And he threw it all away because he thought that the next thing might make him happier. And it didn't. No surprise there.
In this book he is doing the same thing. He has everything he could ever want, but it is not enough. So he keeps risking things to get more. And nothing is ever satisfying for him.
The best part of the book was that it spent a lot of time on Julia's back story. Julia joined the last book right at the end. She was a childhood friend of Quentin's but she did not get into the magical school and instead learned magic on her own.
Hers is a story of depression, addiction, rejection of her family and pursuit of a goal as if nothing (including herself) matters. It is one of the better written portrayals of depression that I have read. But because it is Grossman, the story is cynical and lacks all hope.
Even the fantasy elements seemed missing in this book. There are lot of actions, like a war that includes dragons, but so much happens off the page. There is a quest (pretty much exactly like the Voyage of the Dawn Treader) but much of it happens while Quentin is gone and is dismissed in a couple of sentences. These powerful magicians seem to have almost forgotten that they can do magic in most of the book.
There is clearly a third book on the way because this book ended on a cliff hangers. But I would advice most people to just skip these first two books. There is so little redeeming value in them that if you have not started I would say don't. If you have read the first one, wait until the third one is out to see if it is any good before reading the second.
I also want to note that this book continues to be full of language, sex and a lot of drinking. There is also one graphic rape scene that came out of no where and I though added nothing to the story. This is just a book I would encourage most people to stay away from.