Jan 04, 12
Read in October, 2011
Glimmer of hope, followed by misery, immaturity, disappointment, anguish, relief, and more misery.
After *loving* The Magicians I was very excited to read the Magician King. I devoured this book in one devastating afternoon, and initially had very mixed feelings about it. After rereading it, sadly, I don't think it comes close to the first book. The Magician King is as predictable as it is devastating, the references do not feel clever as they did in The Magicians, but instead fanboy-ish (though I do love shout-outs to the Venture Brothers!), and aside from magical and financial, the characters display very little growth.
I thought Quentin's choice to fly at the end of the first book was something more than literal, but only a couple dozen pages into this book it's safe to say that Quentin hasn't changed very much, if at all from his dissatisfaction, angst, and mind-boggling immaturity in The Magicians. Oh sure, as the book progresses it's clear his magic has taken a major step forward, honed post-first-book-climax by months of recuperatory nihilistic angst, but Quentin still can't find satisfaction in even the most amazing things.
I wouldn't mind our hero's tragic flaw so much, the main problem is that Grossman is constantly giving Quentin faux-breakthroughs and realizations. In half a dozen places and ways after Quentin has experienced something that could be taken as a major event, Grossman claims that Quentin has had some sort of epiphany. Weights lift off his chest and realizations are made, but within a few pages Quentin returns to being a whiny little bitch. It's hard to take any of the action seriously when it's clear that no character is going to change because of it.
That is with the exception of misery. Grossman heaps the misery on all of his characters. That is, except Josh who's the lovable comic relief, and Eliot, who it seems is the only one who's become a better or more complex human, but of course we hear precious little about his adventures. Oh sure, they get some misery too, but it's indirect; they're mostly spared.
Unfortunately, it's unclear if Quentin really *deserves* happiness. In the Bible, the story of Job is supposed to teach us something, I think, about stoicism, or persevering in the face of awful tragedy. Sure, Quentin's been through a lot, but he still almost entirely lacks grace. He doesn't persevere, he just whines his way from one scene to another, occasionally experimenting with thinking about someone other than himself, and usually finding it not to his liking.
There are many disappointments in The Magician King, but that's not to say it's a total failure. It plays with the Voyage of the Dawn Treader in some funny ways, the details are excellent, and the plot is still compelling. If you read and enjoyed The Magicians, I still recommend it, just don't expect too much.