If you read my last review of The Magicians, you might be surprised that not only did I read the second book in the series, but I also loved it. In The Magician King, Lev Grossman leaves behind the mistakes of his previous novel and creates a book that’s engaging, smart, fun, and well-written. This is definitely not your normal fantasy read.
One change in the Magician King is in the structure and pacing of the novel. Grossman effectively uses flashbacks to provide pages of backstory on one character without interrupting the flow of the present narrative. How would The Magicians have worked if Grossman took this same approach and interwove the Brakebills story within the New York / Fillory narrative? My thought is the novel would not have felt so disjointed, but it could have been difficult balancing Quentin and Alice’s relationship.
Another change in The Magician King is that Quentin has grown up. Thank God. While Quentin is still plagued by self-doubt, he’s no longer full of self-loathing. The character changed between the two books and it’s very welcome. I haven’t read The Magician’s Land yet, but I imagine Quentin continues to develop.
One difference between the books I appreciated was that the grown-up, edginess didn’t feel so coated on. The reader knows this isn’t Harry Potter or Narnia and that terrible things happen. Furthermore, the reader knows that Quentin and the other characters don’t act like pre-pubescent children from a postwar England. The characters in Grossman’s book act as one would expect twenty-somethings would act. They’re self-absorbed. They’re seeking diversion. They are not black and white. Compared to the first book though, there wasn’t this constant reminding of sex, drugs, and booze.
My last comparison to The Magicians is that Grossman doesn’t hold back on action. I never had the sense he was leaving scenes off the page.
Everything that I didn’t care for in the first book was left behind. Grossman’s superb writing combines with interesting characters that playfully converse with the fantasy canon. It’s a satisfying novel that further builds Grossman’s world. We learn more about magic on Earth. We dive into Fillory and what realms lay beyond it. We see what happens as power, both magical and heroic, is sought. An invitation to another land is extended to us and all we have to do is open the pages. No buttons or grandfather clocks are needed.