Review — The Magician King

September 2, 2012

I read The Magician King by Lev Grossman pretty quickly. I’d picked it up in the bookstore portion of the Center for Fiction when a customer was asking for recommendations. I remembered hearing about it so I glanced at the cover copy to refresh my memory and see if it was something in the vein of what she was looking for. The customer wrote down a few of my recommendations (but didn’t buy anything), but I ended up totally wanting to read this book. It was only in hardcover though, and I am too poor for that right now. Then I found it in the circulating collection, so all bets were off.

So fun fact: as I was reading this I didn’t feel particularly lost, but there were a lot of references to things that happened before in the past/before the point where this book starts. I found that kind of bizarre and kept wondering why Grossman hadn’t written a book about all of this since it sounded like there was a lot of action(!) and drama(!) involved. And then I found out that he had in fact written a book about all of that (The Magicians) and I was reading the sequel. I’m a truly impressive creature, I know. Anyway, I was more than 3/4 of the way through The Magician King before I realized this, so I finished it and am now reading The Magicians.

I’m almost done with The Magicians, so I thought about just waiting and then giving you the reviews in order, but what’s the fun in that?

I really enjoyed The Magician King, and I think that the fact that I was able to get so far into it without realizing that I was reading a sequel speaks volumes about Grossman’s ability to draw the reader into the story. As I said, I wondered why Grossman hadn’t written about the previous events. I was curious, but I was never confused.

As a writer Grossman doesn’t take himself too seriously, which can be refreshing and funny at times, but starts to get old and seem amateurish if used too often.

I also found parts of the plot…improbable? That’s probably not the right word to use given that this is a fantasy novel, but I’m sticking with it for lack of a better phrase. After the near-disastrous results of rushing through the first door opened with a magic key, wouldn’t Quentin be a bit more careful the second time around? I get that Grossman needs these characters who are all in different places to talk to one another, but getting stranded gets old fast. And the ending! In a game of lowly bureaucrat vs. royalty, shouldn’t royalty have the upper hand there? Why is there any talk of punishment coming from them?

The ending is unsatisfying for other reasons, but I do admit that had everyone gone back to Castle Whitespire to live happily ever after with everything all nice and tidy, that would have been unsatisfying and anticlimactic as well. Maybe I’m just difficult to please.

This makes it sounds like I have a lot of complaints, but over all, I really liked The Magician King. It had just the right amount of mystery and magic, with some humor and plenty of adventure thrown in. Yes, there are blurbs on the cover that mention Harry Potter. No, I will not make a comparison.

On an almost entirely separate note, am I the only one who wishes that the Fillory novels mentioned in the book were real? I want to read them. They sound like fun, sort of like the Magic Treehouse books, of which there are probably 60 by now.

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