Laura Madsen's Reviews > The Magician King

The Magician King by Lev Grossman
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's review
Dec 16, 11

bookshelves: 2011, urban-fantasy
Read from November 23 to December 13, 2011

Like (presumably) every other fantasy geek I’ve thought, Wouldn’t it be cool to do magic? To pop into Hogsmeade for a butterbeer with Professor Dumbledore? Or maybe use magical cures when my regular Western medicine fails?

But think about. Like really think about it. Would you want the surly teenager with his underpants showing because his pants are down below his hips to be chucking magic missiles at the substitute teacher? Or the creepy old guy who mows his lawn naked to be scrying in a pool of used motor oil? Or the entitled chick Facebooking on her smart phone to be whipping up a pox potion?

Well, er, not really. But that’s the world that Lev Grossman has created. If you’re smart enough and dedicated enough, and possibly do enough drugs, you too can do magic.

Like Grossman’s previous novel, THE MAGICIANS, this urban fantasy is not for kids. And it’s not a book to breeze through in an evening; you’ve got to be paying attention. His writing is intricate (“I was perfectly happy where I was, deliquescing, atom by atom, amid a riot of luxury”) and full of references to literature, math and physics (I’ve got a doctorate degree and still didn’t understand many of them). In one chapter, there are references across the board from Italian carabinieri to Candy Land to Brythonic languages to Arthurian legend to Google Street View to Beatrix Potter to “The Wind in the Willows” to Jim Morrison to Scarlett’s Tara to Christopher Robin. Confused yet?

The prose is by turns colloquial and elegant. One great passage:

But nuclear winter was coming, and magic wasn’t keeping her warm. It was getting cold, tainted snow was falling, and the earth was getting thirsty again, thirsty for balm. The black dog was hunting. Julia was feeling it again, the blackness.

Or really blackness would have been a relief, blackness would have been a field trip compared with where she was headed, which was despair. That stuff had no color. She wished it were made of blackness, velvety soft blackness, that she could curl up and fall asleep in, but it was so much worse than that. Think of it as the difference between zero and the empty set, the set that contains nothing, not even zero. These but the trappings and the suits of woe. All these seem to laugh,/Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Highly recommended.

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