Saturday, May 5, 2012

Book Review: "The Magician King" by Lev Grossman

When Lev Grossman's 2009 novel The Magicians was released, many (including myself) called it "Harry Potter for grownups." The story of a group of friends studying magic at a college called Brakebills, who discover the existence of Fillory, a kingdom from a childhood book series (a la Narnia), it was a captivating and enjoyable book about friendship, recognizing your inner greatness, and capturing your dreams.

Quentin, Julia, Eliot, and Janet return in The Magician King, which finds the four entrenched as the dual kings and queens of Fillory, several years after the original book. It is an idyllic life, with servants to do your bidding and all of the comforts one could imagine, and the kingdom isn't challenged by any enemies. But Quentin believes there is more to life than simply growing fat and being happy on the throne—he dreams of going on an adventure, a quest that will prove to him what his life is worth. And on a voyage with Julia to the outer edge of the kingdom, ostensibly to collect overdue taxes, Quentin finds the adventure he is seeking. Yet as he travels both within and outside the magical realm, coming into contact with friends, enemies, and gods from The Magicians, he comes to realize what brings him true happiness, and what being a hero really means.

Much as with the first book in this series, I was utterly captivated by portions of the story, less so by others. Despite the fact that two years elapsed between the release of the first and second books, there were a number of things mentioned in this story that Grossman expects the reader to retain from the first, because characters and situations are referred to without the type of background detail sequels or books in a series often come with. I really enjoyed the way Grossman continued developing his characters (I found many of them more sympathetic than in the first book), yet I found the in-depth recounting of Julia's story, particularly as the story's conclusion drew near, to be a little confusing and distracting. At its heart, this is a book about finding your own way, being your own hero, and discovering your innate greatness. Grossman is a magical storyteller, and I hope that he has left some room for a third tale of Quentin and his friends.

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