Jan 14, 13
Read in June, 2012
A worthy successor to Grossman's first novel in this series (The Magicians), I found this to be also a real page-turner. No question that Grossman is a talented writer; even his earlier, more forgettable books were still quite readable. The novel continues the story of Quentin Coldwater and his three friends Eliot, Janet, and Julia; magicians who are, in the beginning of the book, living as kings and queens in the magical realm of Fillory, an allusion to Narnia. Bored with royal luxuries, Quentin and Julia set off on a quest aboard their royal ship, with shades of C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. They undertake to find seven golden keys, but alas this somehow dumps them back into the real world and they end up at Quentin's parents' house with no apparent way to get back to Fillory. Parallel to the search for the golden keys and a way back to Fillory is Julia's backstory and how she learned magic. Unlike the others, she was rejected from Brakebills Academy, the magical school where most of the characters learned their trade, and the memory wipe that was supposed to make her forget the entrance exam didn't take. She plunges into a depression triggered by her fragmented memories of Brakebills and the haunting feeling that magic does exist. Extensive searching eventually brings her in touch with other magicians, but the months of self-doubt and half-remembered imagery takes a toll, and the dangerous magic that she and her new friends practice eventually costs many lives and changes Julia irreversibly. To put it plainly, she's rather a drag, in a way that is perhaps supposed to be darkly sexy but I found to be rather wearisome and annoying. I guess she has reason, given the dark results of her and her friends tinkering with magic before she met up with Janet and Eliot and reunited with Quentin at the end of the previous book. But perhaps she's no worse than bitchy, slutty Janet or aloof Eliot or even Quentin himself, who is perpetually depressed. Perhaps he also has an excuse, as his love Alice died in the previous book. He is a likeable character, but the chronic depression even when enjoying the wonders of Fillory's magic and other marvelous things does tend to drag the reader down. We find out what happened to their classmate Penny; he's now the caretaker of the Neitherlands (much like the Wood Between the Worlds in C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew) Another classmate Josh's reappearance is welcome, he's a great character, full of wisecracks and good humor. He and his friend Poppy help Quentin and Julia find a way to get back to Fillory. Although they succeed, it has severe ramifications for both Julia and Quentin, and once again Quentin is left friendless and alone. Poor guy can't seem to cut a break. Overall this was a much darker book than the first novel, which largely took place in a school for magic not unlike Hogwarts. Because of that controlled evironment, less evil things happened to Quentin and his friends, at least until they left the academy. But now that they are out and about in the real world as well as in Fillory, they encounter quite a bit of dark magic, death, misfortune, and sadness. I do hope things pick up for Quentin in the next book.