Review: The Magician King, by Lev Grossman
'Just like book one told us of one magician's dreams coming true, book two is all about another's nightmare crawling her way into the world of magic.'
*Trigger warning for this book: explicit language, depression, addiction, sexual assault*
After I read The Magicians, I honestly wondered how Lev Grossman could keep its sequel as interesting and exciting as the first one. I'm happy to report, he not only managed it, but he surpassed it by a mile.
The Magician King is set a few years after the end of the first book, and finds Quentin Coldwater and the gang nicely settled as kings and queens of Fillory. There they live a happy and peaceful life. Too peaceful, in fact, because Quentin is desperate for something, anything, to spice up his otherwise quiet royal existence. As you ask, so you shall get - at least these are the rules of the magical world of Fillory. The story follows Quentin's new adventures as he takes on a new quest, a mission to save magic and... and himself.
This second opus contains all of the ingredients that made me fall in love with The Magicians. It has the characters we met and loved in the first book - in all their arrogance, cleverness and with all their flaws. It has a broody, slightly antagonising anti-hero leading the way. It has impeccable wit and well-placed sarcasm. It has fast-paced adventure, and magic, and a wonderful journey across time and space and otherworldly dimensions.
But the true strength of the book in my view? Julia's story, which runs parallel to the main plot throughout the entire book. Julia, the sweet, genius girl who drove herself mad from catching a glimpse of the magical world without being allowed in. The story of a young woman desperate to be part of something bigger than the normality she's stuck in, but never quite fitting in anywhere. The story of obsession-driven insanity, which leads Julia down the darker, street-style side of magic.
Just like book one told us of one magician's dreams coming true, book two is all about another's nightmare crawling her way into the world of magic. Julia's tale carries echos of depression, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder and a maddening desperation to belong. And ultimately? A tale of hope, of acceptance, of letting go, of making the most of what things are and moving on. Topics that will strike a chord with readers much beyond the fantastical twists and turns of the story.
I think anyone who enjoyed the first book in the series will enjoy this sequel, because it brings together everything that made the story great in the first place and takes to the next level - a much darker, much more profound level.
Be warned though: this isn't your typical hero-saves-the-day tale of magical exploits and it has none of the boy-meet-girl sidelong romance one often finds in the genre. The people in it are made more realistic and relatable for their humanity and their many, many flaws. Everything they face is handled through the tinted glasses of human imperfection. And you know what? As far as I'm concern, this is exactly the book's most appealing attribute.