Review: The Magician King

I read The Magicians by Lev Grossman when it first came out in 2009 or so and just picked up the sequel The Magician King. There was a five year gap between my reading of the first book and the sequel, and yet I was able to be just as into it as the original. It’s a good series. Let’s start there.

The Magician King by Lev Grossman
The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The way I usually describe The Magicians is Harry Potter meets Narnia meets the UK show Skins. It illustrates a magic school realistically. Brakebills is an advanced magic academy that only takes the best and the brightest.  Just as with any specialized and advanced Ivy League type school, the courses are  extremely rigorous and intense. The students are all stressed out and working hard. There is sex and drugs and parties: the normal college social interactions and seedy underbellies of academic life. It takes the magic school experience and turns it on its head. This is no Hogwarts. The book is compelling, sexy, and fascinating. There is a darkness to its reality that  is captivating.

In the first book, the characters go through a series of tribulations that result in them finding the land of Fillory, the setting of our protagonist Quentin Clearwater’s favorite childhood book series. There is danger, loss, monsters, wonder, love, and tremendous sacrifice, but the books close with Quentin and three of his friends being crowned kings and queens of Fillory. The second book picks up there with Quentin as a king, but still feeling listless and directionless. It is not hard being a king. It’s a lot of laying about, getting drunk, and eating too much. He is itching for an adventure, but when it finally finds him, it’s not exactly what he had in store.

The book focuses alternately on Quentin and his quest and flashback to the origin story of Julia, one of the queens of Fillory, who is a hedgewitch. She is a person from Quentin’s life before he became a magician. She also took the exam for Brakebills, but failed. When a student fails the exam, their memories are altered and they are sent packing back to ordinariness. But this did not quite work with Julia. She had two sets of memories: the altered and what actually happened. Julia understands magic is real and drives herself to the point of madness and loses everything, her family, her sense of self, to get to the root of it. Julia’s story is a captivating counterpoint to the present story with Quentin and the other character’s adventures on the high seas east of Fillory.

I highly recommend the entire series. I am anxiously anticipating the third installment and am chomping at the bit to know what happens next.

Unrelated to magicians, but I found this amazing 1945 collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work, including The Great GatsbyTender is the Night, and a dozen short stories, today at my local thrift store. I’ve been looking for a good Fitzgerald edition for years and I’m quite pleased with the find! It’s been so nice out. Spring seems to have really set in and there’s no better way to spend a day than browsing stacks of books and strolling in the sunshine! At least that’s what I always say.

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Until next time!



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