_The Magician King_ is a good book. Still, I found the first half to be a bit of a slow start that was by turns frustrating and enjoyable in almost eq_The Magician King_ is a good book. Still, I found the first half to be a bit of a slow start that was by turns frustrating and enjoyable in almost equal measure, so I kept vacillating between a 3 and 4 for it, so I think it ends up for me at a fairly solid 3.5. The book itself is divided into two more or less equal story halves: one follows Quentin and his friends in Fillory as they go on a diplomatic mission of purely cursory import that turns into a fairly inconsequential 'quest'…this in turn ends up having wider ramifications (though it didn’t totally pull together for me…or to be more precise in many ways it pulled together a little too neatly); the second flashes back to show us what Quentin's old friend Julia was up to while Quentin was doing the Harry Potter shuffle at Brakebills.
I think most of the frustrating elements had to do with Quentin, the main character, and the first part of the story. It can certainly be said that he's less of a prat here than he was in _The Magicians_, but somehow I still found him a bit more grating here. Wasn't the whole point of the first volume that he was growing up? Looks like he still didn't learn a heck of a lot from his first series of adventures and was living life in Fillory more or less in the same way as he lived it on Earth in the first book...any wonder he's still complaining? Granted Quentin is supposed to be a more or less realistic 'broken hero', but he seemed to be a touch too pusillanimous for me. His constant whining that where he was right now wasn't where he wanted to be anymore seemed a bit crazy to me given everything he went through in the first book. I mean sure, the human condition pretty much runs on the concept of "the grass is always greener" and again, Quentin is meant to be an exemplar...but c'mon Q. grow a pair will you?
I found the story of Julia and her harrowing journey on the road to becoming a hedge witch to be a much more compelling tale. The Fillory quest half of the book actually picks up at around book 3 where Quentin and Julia return from an interlude on earth to Fillory...prior to that the questing seemed a little too much like fill in the number plot coupon fantasy that was being followed for the heck of it. Also, some of the dovetailing of various plot elements that went into the quest’s development and resolution seemed a little too neat for me. Everything seemed to work out exactly as required even when it seemed to be going off the rails and Grossman’s meta-textual references to this fact in the text didn’t make it much more interesting or palatable. Still, Quentin seems to have (finally?) grown up and there was enough good stuff in the story to outweigh the bad....more
I really feel like I ought to have liked this book more than I did and it might deserve a higher rating, but I can only go by my actual r2.5 – 3 stars
I really feel like I ought to have liked this book more than I did and it might deserve a higher rating, but I can only go by my actual reading experience which was a bit lukewarm; I guess my book biorhythms were off for this one because on the face of it this might otherwise have become a favourite.
Rohan is a good writer and has done some interesting things within the high fantasy genre here. His magic system based on an animistic shamanism that allows its practitioners to access the powers of the natural and supernatural world via a kind of ritualistic co-inherence of symbolic elements seemed both interesting and fresh. A subset of this would be the powers and abilities of master craftsmen such as his main character Elof the smith. Elof’s own smithcraft follows a similar paradigm whereby he is able to make use of the natural characteristics of his raw materials, in combination with ritual incantations and symbols, in order to imbue them with power. I thought this element of the world building to be compelling and interesting, not to mention something that does not appear to have been done to death in the genre.
Rohan’s use of a pre-historic setting of our own world follows the model of Tolkien, though it perhaps incorporates more elements from actual geological and anthropological history as we know it. His most unique and intriguing of these elements for me was perhaps the way in which he handled his dwarf-analogues, the Duergar, who are actually a remnant of the Neanderthals who escaped from the rise of Homo sapiens by fleeing into the depths of the mountains. The next would be the fact that the overarching evil overlord against whom our heroes must contest is actually the Ice Age itself (or more properly the mystical personification of ‘the Ice’ and the various eldritch pre-human powers that are behind it). This use of demiurgic powers that drive elements of the story, and who occasionally appear as characters intervening in the affairs of men, was certainly another reminder to me of Tolkien, specifically in his use of the Valar as represented in The Silmarillion and I always like seeing this kind of mingling of the human with the semi-divine when it’s done well. Another echo of _The Silmarillion_ could perhaps be seen in Elof’s role of smith and master craftsman known for his ability to create artifacts of great power (shades of Fëanor, Celebrimbor, and even Sauron here) and some of the most interesting elements of this book for me (and even moreso in the volume that precedes it in the series) were the details of exactly how Elof learned his craft and fashioned these artifacts. Despite these echoes (in my mind at least) of Tolkien I think that for the most part they are less the outright borrowings of a slavish imitator and more the fruit of Rohan’s own story with perhaps an ‘influence’ from the grand-pappy of the genre; we’re certainly not suffering from the extruded fantasy product of those afflicted with Terry-Brooks-syndrome here.
That being said I couldn’t help but see Kermorvan, the king-in-waiting character, as little more than an Aragorn-analogue (and one who is both much less interesting and more high-handed than Aragorn ever was). Also, regardless of the fact that I am in general agreement with LeGuin’s dictum of a ‘high style’ being the natural mode of high fantasy (as she adroitly argued in her seminal essay “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie”), I must admit that sometimes Rohan’s ‘high style’ came off a little bit tortured, especially in the self-important speeches of the aforementioned man-who-would-be-king Kermorvan.
All in all this was a well-written foray into the realm of epic fantasy and it managed to avoid many of the pitfalls of the Tolkien-clones, while adding something new and fresh to the genre. Despite all of that I just didn’t find this a compelling read and was anxious to get to the end of the book and move on to something else. Not the most ringing endorsement, but I think in this case my malaise had less to do with the faults of the book itself (though there are some) and more with my own headspace when I read it....more
3 - 3.5 stars. This was an interesting read. I'm not generally a huge fan of Stephen King, but this genre mishmash of western, horror, and fantasy sou3 - 3.5 stars. This was an interesting read. I'm not generally a huge fan of Stephen King, but this genre mishmash of western, horror, and fantasy sounded unique enough to check out. I like the way King blended his sources and the enigmatic figure of Roland the Gunslinger, last of his kind, is someone I want to learn more about. We are given just enough details about his pseudo-Arthurian background to keep us wondering and to make him seem more than just a taciturn cowboy stereotype, though there are times when he is in danger of falling into that.
The bleak world across which Roland pursues his quarry, the sorcerous Man in Black, combines the almost archetypal elements of the stark primary world of a multiverse with enough details and real human figures to make it rise a step above the merely representative. One wonders how these lonely individuals Roland comes across came into this world, for it doesn't seem to be one for which humanity was made, and I was left reminded of the enigmatic Island of 'Lost'...hopefully King is able to pull together the disparate strands and mysteries of his story in a more coherent way than the writers of that series were. I'm somewhat dubious of this, though, given the varied rumours I've heard about the Dark Tower series as a whole. It seems that you either love it uncritically, or find yourself disappointed with the final resolution. I guess we'll see where I find myself six more books from now.
For the time being I enjoyed it, but wasn't yet blown away....more
I really enjoyed reading The Magicians. That's not surprising given that I think I'm more or less Lev Grossman's target audience: thirty-something sciI really enjoyed reading The Magicians. That's not surprising given that I think I'm more or less Lev Grossman's target audience: thirty-something sci-fi and fantasy nerds that take the genre fairly seriously, but still like to have fun and geek out at casual references to our favourite genre classics. This book has been compared to a cross between Harry Potter and the Narnia books, and I don't think the comparison is unfair...Grossman was obviously heavily influenced by these books and he wears his influences on his sleeve. Add to that list Donna Tartt's _The Secret History_ and a healthy smattering of D&D and I think you more or less have the pedigree for this book. That's not to say that Grossman is merely slavishly lifting from his favourites in some fan-fiction style work of pastiche. I think Grossman is successful in moving beyond these obvious influences and creating something of his own.
The outlines of the story are probably well-know given the relative hype that surrounded the book: Quentin Coldwater is a fairly typical disaffected nerd on the cusp of high school graduation, morosely wondering what to do with the rest of his life. Fortuitously he is plucked from the clutches of an interview with Princeton and winds up attending a secret college for Magicians to which only the brightest and best are invited. From here we follow him through the typical growing pains of a coming-of-age tale, spiced with the added complications of magic.
There's a lot of hate here on Goodreads for the book and most of it seems to fall into two major categories: 1) Wow, these characters are all sad and depressing, not at all like good old Harry Potter and his saccharine friends, and 2) Wow, Grossman totally stole the idea of a school for magic users from J.K. Rowling...how dare he?! I will readily admit that Quentin and his friends are not exactly happy-shiny people, but I didn't notice that they were horribly exaggerated either. They certainly seemed a lot more like real people than some authors are able to pull off (no names mentioned here). Also, I think given both the kinds of people they are (A-type, driven overachievers) and the experiences they find themselves in (forced to accept at a relatively advanced age that the explanations for the entire world as they knew it are not exactly true), and handed vast opportunity for power make most of their actions believable. In addition, for all the flaws Quentin may exhibit he seems to be trying to overcome them in an attempt to become something better...that's the whole point of the story, really. As to the second objection, all I can say is that Rowling hardly invented the concept of a school of magic and that those that love the pot should not be worried by the fact that the kettle is black. I think Grossman is very above board about his influences and while the parallels are obvious I think that any accusations that this is simply Harry Potter with unsavoury characters and the serial numbers filed off are unfounded.
Fillory, his invented stand-in for Narnia, is also well done. I found it much more convincing, and generally interesting, that Narnia ever was for me. Grossman even got me to consider starting to read the Narnia books where I left them, and that is no small feat given that, while I respect C. S. Lewis greatly and love some of his writing, the Narnia series just left me cold...I guess I came to them too late. The book left me wishing for more, and since the sequel has just been released that's a good thing. ...more