Sheila's Reviews > The Magician King

The Magician King by Lev Grossman
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Oct 28, 2011

did not like it
bookshelves: read-in-2011
Read from November 26 to December 27, 2011

** spoiler alert ** I am so annoyed by this book, and not for the reasons I thought I'd be. The two things that irritated me about the first book weren't as bad here--specifically, Quentin was less whiny (I couldn't stand him in the first book; he was more bearable here), and the sexism that ran through the first book was really toned down. (I could never tell if the sexism was supposed to be Quentin's voice, or if it was latent from the author. I suspect the latter.)

At first, I thought Julia was going to be a manic-pixie-dream-girl to replace Alice (who filled that role in the first book, and who was my favorite character. RIP). However, that wasn't the case. I actually loved Julie's story for the first 90% of the book. In fact, up until the end, I was really liking this book. The main story was fast paced, and learning about Julia's magical underground, and her group of friends, was really interesting.

Then the book totally blindsided me. At the end, Julia is raped. By a god, nonetheless. It's a pretty disturbing scene (in a book that, up till this point, had PG-13, fantasy violence only). But it's OK, guys! Not only did the rape empower her and give her stronger magic, but she's TOTALLY healed--by turning into a dryad.

Yes, that's right. I'm being literal. We haven't progressed beyond the ancient Greeks in our treatment of--or attitudes about--rape victims. Julia lost her humanity from a rape. I would have given this book 4 stars, but the ending ruined it for me. I no longer trust this author and won't be reading any more of his books.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel Not sure I follow the argument. What's the evil symbolism you're suggesting? [And at a basic level, I think it's hard to deny that for some women the experience of rape IS transformative, and that it can be so in a negative, positive or neutral way... so that part of the symbolism at least seems sound]

Personal growth symbolised through supernatural empowerment, issuing from a traumatic experience, is the oldest trope in the book, and is almost impossible to avoid in modern fiction, even in non-fantasy (the endings of two films I watched recently, 'Run Lola Run' and 'Punch Drunk Love' both probably count, for instance) - as well as being important sociologically for its reassurance value ("no matter what happens to you, you can find something to gain from it"), it's also probably based in truth (traumatic, especially near-death, experiences can change mentality and behaviour in a way that is very visible, and intimidating, to 'normal people'). I don't see why it's unacceptable to say that this applies to rape (ie what's wrong with saying rape is important).

I also object to this idea that because the Greeks were bad people we mustn't tell their stories. I think it's very restrictive to want only to tell stories that aren't offensive, disturbing, strange, controversial or peculiar. It's one thing to want to purge literature of overtly despicable views, to dislike an author for explicitly being sexist in the views expressed, or implicitly through the views allowed to stand unchallenged - but i think that once you're talking about the symbolism not of the words but of the depicted events and trying to work out if there's some underlying evilness ("rape victim turned into a tree by a god? author is misogynist!") you're on a very slippery slope.


Angie Lisle I agree about with you about the sexism - i thought he'd weeded that out of this book, until the end. No, he just puts it on hold so he can "surprise" us with it at the end. I won't be reading the next book either.

And the problem with people saying we (as in women) shouldn't be offended by sexism in books are obviously men who don't have to actually deal with sexism on a daily basis.

If you got paid less for doing the same job (or passed over for promotion) simply because you have a vagina between your legs... If you had to grow up worried about rape because 1 in every 4 girls is raped before the age of 30 - not only raped, but 70% of them raped by MEN they know... If you had to deal with your friends dropping every 4 seconds at the hands of domestic violence...

Well, then you'd understand why these dim-witted attempts to continue misogynistic traditions piss some of us women off.


message 3: by Sam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sam Williams How is it misogynistic to have a female character get raped? Grossman certainly doesn't present it as a good thing. Sure, in the end she ultimately finds her way through the hurt and becomes fulfilled and happy, but I'd argue that it's in spite of the rape, not because of it. Grossman also shows the rape from Julia's perspective, describing how it felt in horrific detail. On top of that, he describes present time Julia as basically an empty husk who's been drained of all life as a result of the rape. The rape is in no way presented as a positive event, Reynard the Fox is presented as a horrible villain, and Julia is the most sympathetic character in the book. I'm sorry, but your critique is reductionist and short-sighted.


Renee Thank you! I felt the same way you did about the ending of this book.


Patrick Sullivan This exact scene ruined the whole book for me.


message 6: by MD (new) - rated it 3 stars

MD @Sam Williams, the author actually uses the phrase "it felt wonderful". Yes, I am taking it out of context. He is not saying Julia wanted to be raped or enjoyed it while it was happening, but there is no way those words should be put in the head of a victim in any context during a rape, even in the context of being transformed into something else. Grossman makes a living from words. He had to have been being controversial on purpose. There is no way he couldn't have described the beginning of her transformation - even as the result of a rape - without saying the climax of a rape was at all wonderful for the victim.


Christopher Clark Please grow up. Having rape in fiction does not mean rape is OK. If you think that you are a child


message 8: by Julia (new)

Julia Thank you, this has resolved for me whether to read the second book or not. After Alice and seeing there were two different female sidekicks for the next two books, I suspected it was going to be like the Ben Aaronivich novels in terms of replaceable beautiful females having horrible things happen to them so the main character can feel things and this has pretty much confirmed it.


Davy "Julia lost her humanity from rape" That is it exactly. I was absolutely horrified by this. I'm so glad to see other people talking about how fucking HORRIBLE it was instead of "wow LG addressed rape! How brave! How deep!" or whatever other bullshit excuses people make when they don't actually know how women grow and exist as people.


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