Michelle's Reviews > The Magician King

The Magician King by Lev Grossman
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's review
Jan 26, 13

Read in January, 2013

I loved The Magicians and was eager to gobble up the sequel. I tried to like it, and did at the beginning. True to a writer who theoretically understands form, the first chapter opened up a great story with a mysterious death and a quest taken out of extreme boredom. The plot quickly derails as they go island hopping, Quentin and Julia get stuck back on Earth and you learn about Julia’s both obvious and absurd back story. This booked suffered from the lack of a tight plot, keen as well as sarcastic world building, and the character development that made it worth the trip to Breakbills/Fillory the first time around. The Magician King is more of the same hyper snarkiness without the cohesive adventure. The ‘tude was amusing the first time around, now it’s tiresome.

SPOILERS: Julia’s back story is the true reeking turd of literary disgrace in the whole fantasy genre. Here’s the gist so you don’t have to suffer through it if you don’t want to. As boring as Quentin was in this book, Julia was horrible. With Julia you get a first class ticket into the world of the genius IQ, manic depressive stereotype. The Harvard bound, privileged super nerd gets told no once when she fails her test to get into Breakbills and it’s a steady descent into madness from there. She writes off her family and breaks their hearts, not once but twice, in the pursuit of magical power purely because she doesn’t have it yet. She throws away her future at an Ivy League school and then ignores them completely. Then she sleeps and hands jobs her way around the underground magical community to learn all the magic she can, jumping the hoops and “leveling up” because that’s all Julia the super academic knows.

When she finds a group of depressive, “misunderstood” super geniuses like herself she decides they are good enough for her and this was the family she was looking for all along. Too bad they’re as greedy and self-entitled as she is, because all they seem to care about is achieving more power. This comes in the form of combing the world’s religions for high-end ceremonial magic, and it’s presented as if you need a genius IQ to come to that conclusion. Between her worthy friends and a loving goddess figure Julia’s discovered, she’s actually happy and realizes maybe she didn’t need power after all, but surprise! The goddess they try to summon is actually a trickster god who kills everyone because nothing in this world can be truly happy and fulfilling, and if it looks like it is, it’s because it’s a lie. Isn’t Lev so dark and edgy??? Unlearning her revelation from before, Julia then begs the god to give her power, who injects her with super powered magical semen-yeah, that’s right- during a rape and steals her soul. Turns out the only way to redemption is to go to Fillory, travel to the Underworld (an epic journey that takes all of five pages, maybe), realize no one there can see you so you must have no soul (no denying it now), and become a Dryad, serving the Goddess in Fillory. Yes, the only way to be happy is to deny your humanity. Get help, Lev.

The entire basis of Julia seems to be to make her as much of a dysfunctional Hermione as possible. Her hard work, determination and genius IQ, instead of giving her some perspective and actual brilliance, make her the super slut of the magical underworld, because to Lev that’s just the sort of world we live in: all women get what they want by giving hand jobs. From Julia’s story we learn that your true family isn’t actually your real, loving family, all real-world Goddess religions are a lie perpetuated by dark gods (Christian brainwashed much?), and the only way to true happiness is to go to a magical other dimension and ascend into a higher spiritual being completely away from reality. Well, if nothing else, at least I feel smarter than these “genius IQ” straw men characters.

Two stars because Lev can paint a vivid picture, just not a very cogent one this time around.
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