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The Magicians #2

The Magician King

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fantasy (2011)
Return to Fillory in the riveting sequel to the New York Times bestseller and literary phenomenon, The Magicians, from the author of the forthcoming The Magician's Land.

Quentin Coldwater should be happy. He escaped a miserable Brooklyn childhood, matriculated at a secret college for magic, and graduated to discover that Fillory—a fictional utopia—was actually real. But even as a Fillorian king, Quentin finds little peace. His old restlessness returns, and he longs for the thrills a heroic quest can bring.

Accompanied by his oldest friend, Julia, Quentin sets off—only to somehow wind up back in the real world and not in Fillory, as they'd hoped. As the pair struggle to find their way back to their lost kingdom, Quentin is forced to rely on Julia's illicitly-learned sorcery as they face a sinister threat in a world very far from the beloved fantasy novels of their youth.

418 pages, Kindle Edition

First published August 9, 2011

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About the author

Lev Grossman

48 books8,814 followers
My novel The Magicians was a New York Times bestseller. So was the sequel, The Magician King. The third book in the trilogy, The Magician's Land, will be published in August 2014.

There's yet more information about me and my books on my website.

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5 stars
27,087 (28%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,964 reviews
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,745 followers
August 13, 2014
If Quentin Coldwater stumbled on a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, he’d constantly complain about how heavy it was and how the coins didn’t fit in any vending machines and why couldn't they have just put the money into a nice cashier's check that he could have fit neatly in his wallet and then deposited in the bank?

In the first book, Quentin was a brilliant but disillusioned teenager who found life a boring slog and desperately wished that things were more like his favorite fantasy series set in a magical land called Fillory. (Think Narnia.) Quentin seemingly hit the fantasy geek jackpot when he learned that magic was real, and he was admitted to an exclusive school called Brakebills that trained magicians. Yet he constantly found himself disappointed that he never achieved his idea of true happiness even after graduating. When a classmate discovered that Fillory was real and a path to it, Quentin seized on the notion that going to Fillory was the only way he’d ever finally be complete. Unfortunately, Quentin learned the hard way that there‘s a big difference between reading about adventures and actually finding yourself in magical battle where various beasties are trying to kill you.

The Magician King picks up several years after that. Quentin is now one of the kings of Fillory and lives a life of ease and luxury with his friends. Of course, Quentin is never satisfied with a bird in the hand even when he’s relatively content, and he volunteers to go on a diplomatic mission to an island so he can seek the two birds he just knows are out there in the bush. His desire for a ’real’ adventure leads to him returning to Earth and finding that his wish for a high stakes quest have just come true. It’s much more than he bargained for and the consequences are enormous.

I loved The Magicians with it’s unique twist of what it’d be like if there were magic in the real world, but it seemed like a love-it or hate-it book with my friends here on Goodreads. And I totally understood why some readers could not stand Quentin at all. Here’s a guy who catches the biggest break in nerd history and yet he’s never satisfied and grateful for the opportunity he has.

In all honesty, I was starting to hate him pretty good through the first half of this book myself. It seemed like Quentin had forgotten everything he’d suffered and learned in the first book, and he was once again an obsessed nerd who is convinced that he’d be happy if he could live like he’s in a fantasy novel. However, that changes about halfway through with several big plot developments that I won’t spoil, but by the end of this one, I completely dropped my earlier reservations.

It also helped that Grossman is obviously writing Quentin to be an obsessed pain in the ass early on, and that he has several characters call him out on it. There’s a particularly nice bit where Quentin has traveled to Europe on Earth, and he has a moment of clarity where he realizes that he wrote off the real world when he’d seen almost none of it.

One of the things I also loved about this one in is the backstory of Julia, a former high school classmate’s of Quentin’s who had failed the Brakebills entrance exam, but went on to find another way to learn magic. If they were musicians, it’d be like Quentin went to study at Juilliard, but Julia learned in garage bands and punk clubs.

I can’t mention the stuff that occurs towards the end that made this book so cool to me and left me stunned by it’s conclusion. If you didn’t like The Magicians, this probably won’t change your mind. However, if you did like the first one, you’ll probably enjoy this book, especially it’s moving and incredibly dark third act.

Originally read Aug. 2011
Re-read Aug. 2014
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,633 reviews5,004 followers
February 6, 2012
The Continuing Adventures of a Smug Magical Asshole, as written by An Asshole. and now featuring The New Adventures of a Completely Self-Absorbed Bitch.

i suppose i understand the acclaim that has been heaped on Grossman. he is playing with tropes as his characters play with magic. he has a puckish sensibility that makes reading his series a tart and spiky experience. his tone is breezily casual and entirely unsentimental. and since Snark is the New Law of the New Millenium, the snark that is delivered in spades throughout his novels probably lets many readers off the hook of reading genre fiction... everything is delivered neatly wrapped up within a knowing, eye-rolling, jaded wrapping paper. this gift can be unwrapped at sophisticated dinner parties and the reader won't have to suffer any kind of embarrassment over reading and talking about Fantasy.

but i had to do a lot of eye-rolling of my own. it's not as if The Magician King is just about a shallow little prick who views everything - and i mean Everything - around him with disdain. i probably would have less of an issue with this book if it were simply about an unsympathetic protagonist. but nope, the author himself makes it clear that he is officially on the side of cynical, snarky assholery. it is all in the writing itself, and not just in the voice of our tedious hero. i can start with the ending, where banality has been substituted for actual meaning and resonance. but the problem is endemic to the entire narrative. people and places are described in the same shallow, smirky, insulting manner, as if the book was actually written by our tedious hero. a bit of the jokiness scores; most of it just falls flat, with a thud. like the irritating, oh-so-clever commentary of some overly-intellectual prick at a party, going on and on about how pedestrian tv is, how terrible music is these days, how pop culture is for idiots, how he's been there, done that, and there were so many tourists and it was all so predictable and banal and now he's rolling his eyes and arching his eyebrows and i just want to smack the bullshit right out of him. in short, this novel lacks SINCERITY.

okay, enough of the complaints. there is still a lot to enjoy. first off, new co-protagonist The Completely Self-Absorbed Bitch is actually pretty interesting and her parallel flashback adventures are often enthralling. the way that the parallel narratives of our heroine's past and our hero's present eventually dovetail into one narrative is clever and quite elegantly structured. an island battle is genuinely thrilling. the novel's major set-piece, where a bunch of brilliant but mentally ill magicians conjure up an actual god is pretty awesome - and very upsetting. the story of young Benedict is also quite well-done... there is genuine tragedy and sadness there, in a way that really stands out from the rest of the narrative. and extra points for portraying rape without even the slightest bit of offensive sexiness.

i was happy to see my favorite characters from the prior novel, Penny and that novel's superb villain Martin Chatwin, both return in a couple excellent cameos. and many of the ideas are wonderful - in particular the Neitherlands, dragons, Venice, the return of the old gods, magical halfway houses, a magical ship, magicians who have somehow transitioned into higher beings, the seven golden keys, a sloth, the Customs Agent and especially her daughter... and i'm probably missing a few equally choice nuggets. The Magician King is deeply flawed and its juvenile tone may be instantly dismissable; it is also practically brimming over with a host of smart, fun, and intriguing moments. much like a creative, outsider-type teenager - full of unearned cynicism and irritating snarkiness, but also full of vibrant energy, a host of ideas, and a fresh, sometimes even brilliant way of looking at things.

so, when all is said and done, i'd actually recommend this book as an interesting and often enjoyable experience. but i'd have to give a big disclaimer before recommending it - a disclaimer delivered with a little snark and a lot of eye-rolling.
Profile Image for Anne.
3,868 reviews69.2k followers
August 28, 2022
First, if you didn't like the first one? Pass!
You're not going to suddenly fall in love with these characters or this style of depressed storytelling. But for those of you who loved The Magicians, or maybe even those of you who were on the fence, I think this will be a winner for you. Because instead of starting out in Hogwarts and ending up in Narnia, this one is basically just a huge adventure quest, so it doesn't leave that odd sort of fractured plotline taste in you mouth.
Not saying that was a bad thing, but I'm not convinced it would have worked twice.


I know this may not ring true for everyone, but I thought Quentin really matured quite a bit from the last book. Yeah, he can still act like a whiny douchebag, but compared to his maudlin attitude before, he's positively chipper this time around!
Well, maybe not chipper.
But he seems to accept responsibility for the things his actions have caused, and become more action-oriented when the situation calls for it. It's as though he took a long hard look at himself, and decided to pull his thumb out of his ass...just a tad.


Another thing I enjoyed was Julia.
You see her at the end of the last book, but how she ended up with those guys was a mystery. In this one, we finally find out how she met up with the others, and (more importantly) what she had been doing while Quentin was learning magic at Brakebills.


Having said that, Julia was not a sympathetic character. She was basically a batshit addict. Instead of drugs, she was infected with an addiction to magic, but the end result was the same. Just like any other addiction, she was absorbed with it to the point of not only destroying herself but the lives of everyone who loved her. She was self-aware enough to realize it, but too consumed with her need for it to care.
So, yeah. For the vast majority of the book, you're just watching her cut a swath of devastation across everything she touches.


The ending though?
Didn't see it coming, but I loved it! Loved it!
And after reading the preview chapters for the next book, I can say that I'm definitely excited to see how this all wraps up!
Profile Image for Baba.
3,530 reviews790 followers
February 14, 2021
The Magicians, book #2: After the thoroughly shocking genre busting end to the first book, you'd think that this is it now, we're in a magical real with a dark underbelly? Strike out! This sequel continues with what worked well in the first book, an ingenious mix of urban and dark fantasy, as we follow the next steps of our Magician cast and also catch up with one of the original Brakebills' test failures! Quentin and co. go against all genre norms and actively avoid even a sniff of a quest, saga or mystery, only to find that fate has different demands.

This almost irreverent mix of slackers, compulsions and dreamers; of boozing, bonking and drug abuse; of talking animals, magical lands and creatures, and gods, plural; all comes together to make yet another innovative and original look at this compelling reality where people come across as authentic; and where they have read or watched Harry Potter, Netflix, YouTube etc so that mass media they have been exposed to influences their choices and paths taken, be they selfish or heroic... and that's the core of this book... the search for heroism within us? Or is it? 8 out of 12, because despite my praise, the book probably meanders a tad too much.
Profile Image for Brandon.
86 reviews14 followers
August 25, 2014
A book has never made me so angry before. I am absolutely bewildered that 93% of people like this book. No offense, but I think you all deserve a fucking double-slap across the face.

This was, hands down, the worst book I've ever read. Where is the zero star possibility, Goodreads? Because, for this shitty fucking book, we need one. In The Magicians, I felt that Lev Grossman was actually a beautiful writer, and that's one of the reasons I gave it two measly stars. Here, though, Grossman just shoves that little bit going for him up a cow's ass. Also… is it fucking possible that these characters could be anymore loathsome? Quentin Coldwater is the worst protagonist I've ever encountered. You can't even call him a protagonist let alone a fucking hero because he has NO redeeming qualities whatsoever. It's the same whiny "my life is too boring even though I'm a king, and I live in a fucking white castle, and I am a genius who can do magic" bullshit only this time it's magnified by fucking Julia who I wish would have offed herself the entire time. Call the fucking waaambulance.

For the record, I am not some reader who needs a taintless protagonist. I love protagonists who are unconventional. For instance, Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin from China Miéville's Perdido Street Station. He's not the best guy in the world. In fact, he's pretty fucking sleazy, but among many of his glaring, douche-y faults, he has one shining, likable quality, and that one likable quality wants me to see him succeed in everything he attempts.

Quentin? I want him to fail. I want his life to be so miserable that he can't EVER go on a fucking quest again. I want him to forget how to do magic. I want banality to come along and make Quentin Coldwater its bitch. The other characters? No better. Eliot? Give me a goddamn fucking break. He has to find the Seven Golden Keys of Fillory because Fillory is in peril, tells his story, talks about how magnificent he was while doing it, and says, "I could imagine finding one every few years. Organize my holidays around it." What a fucking cunt. Then, later, when they find an island, Quentin asks Eliot if they should claim it in the name of Fillory, and Eliot says, "It seems a little imperialist. I'm not sure it's in good taste." When the fuck have you people ever cared about good taste? Characters joke about Asians having small penises. Arbitrary sex is rife through out as if Mr. Grossman gets some sick pleasure from watching two characters randomly fuck out of the blue. Mmm, yeah, I'm so badass and edgy for using the word fuck.

And can we talk about character actions for a second? Why in the fucking world would Julia, a twenty-something year old magician described as "a freight train of magical pedagogy," use a rock to break into a sports car? These fucking useless cunts/pricks hack into ATMs for a living because they practically leak laziness and apathy.

Speaking of hacking into ATMs, Quentin and his so-called friends get kicked out of Fillory, so they go through pages and pages of getting to their friend Josh because he has one of the buttons that allowed them to get into Fillory in the first book. BUT! He fucking sold it for money, so he could buy a million dollar palazzo. THEY ARE MAGICIANS! THEY HACK INTO FUCKING ATMS WITH FUCKING MAGIC! Listen… I don't know if I'm making myself clear. These are characters who bewitched corporations in the first book to give themselves desk jobs where they sat and played Minesweeper all day and still made bank, and Josh just HAD to sell a button that allows inter-dimensional travel for a fucking palazzo in Venice? What the fucking fuck?

And my GOD the plethora of pop culture references!

This piece of shit story is an anti-fantasy. It is not a fantasy that I can immerse myself in because I am being constantly bombarded with Harry Potter references and Dune references and Lord of the Rings references. The Teletubbie world is real? Har har har, ur so funneh, Mr. Grossman. I'm surprised you didn't take that moment to talk about how big Tinkie Winkie's cock was! Stop being lazy and make up your own goddamn references, and give me a fantasy where I can lose myself and not be reminded again and again and again that I'm reading a fucking book because that, though you may not know it for whatever pathetic reason, is why people picked up this drivel to begin with.

We should also talk about the fucking ideas you stole, Mr. Grossman, but, you know, after reading The Magicians, I wouldn't expect anything less. Seven Golden Keys? Sailing around Fillory on a ship? Hrm… sounds like the Seven Swords in the fucking The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. They even end up on the beach, and Aslan Ember shows up and sends

As we near the end, we come to the fucking unadulterated sexism. I guess if Mr. Grossman's heroine can't Are you fucking with me? And what is the purpose behind it? So she can ascend to being ? That's bullshit, and it's sick.

And what kind of crock-of-shit ending was that? There's an iota of something good here: It is literally resolved with the and it takes fucking 80% of the book to set this one thing up? It's fucking terrible. But at least Quentin got what he deserved… but maybe not because I hear Mr. Grossman is planning on writing another one of these fucking tragedies. Count me out.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,895 reviews10.5k followers
August 15, 2011
Quentin and friends are the kings and queens of Fillory and everything is marvelous. Or it is, until it becomes apparent that something is wrong. King Quentin takes it upon himself to fix things. With Julia in tow, he sails to the ends of Fillory to fix the world. Can he succeed in the quest of a lifetime and save Fillory?

If The Magicians was Lev Grossman's Harry Potter with a healthy slice of Narnia, The Magician King is Lev Grossman's Lord of the Rings. Grossman takes all the quest story staples and focuses them through his lens. Not only does Grossman tell the story of Quentin rising to the occasion and stopping his rampant douche-baggery, he also tells the harrowing tale of Julia's own rise to magical prowess after her failure during the Brakebills exam. Where the first book is essentially a coming of age story, this one is a pair of quest stories.

I have to admit that I wasn't completely sold at first. Neither thread of the story seemed to be moving very fast and Julia's tale wasn't really grabbing me. Then it all clicked and I was hooked, devouring the book in two extended sittings.

Quentin rises above his roots in The Magician King, finally becoming someone we actually like reading about. As for Julia's parallel tale, I'll save that for my spoilers section. Grossman explores the various quest story tropes and simultaneously crafts a grand quest story of his own. More on that in the spoilers section.

Grossman did a ton of world-building in The Magician King. The Neitherlands were explained, Fillory was fleshed out, and lots of things lurking just out of sight were hinted at. All of it was well integrated with the rest of the story and I didn't feel like I was being slapped in the face with it.

Poppy was by far my favorite of the new characters. I liked how she called Quentin to the carpet over ignoring the real world in favor of Fillory. I also liked that she and Quentin didn't immediately stumble and fall into each other's genitals.

Julia's tale was a poignant tale of loss and sacrifice. While I wasn't too keen on it at first, it became my favorite part of the story after a while. Her new friends were an interesting bunch. Too bad about what happened to them. See the spoiler section for details.

One thing I continue to love is Grossman's magic system. It's grown a bit from its Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell roots. The notion that magic is the leftover tools from when the gods created the world is repeated and expanded upon.

The spoiler section:

In conclusion, if you dug the first book and don't like your sequels to be "Second verse, same as the first," you'll probably enjoy The Magician King. Go out and get it right now!
Profile Image for Sheila.
940 reviews84 followers
July 21, 2018
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.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 2 books247k followers
July 22, 2019
”She’d always liked Quentin, basically. He was sarcastic and spookily smart and, on some level, basically a kind person who just need a ton of therapy and maybe some mood-altering drugs. Something to selectively inhibit the voracious reuptake of serotonin that was obviously going on inside his skull 24-7. She felt bad about the fact that he was in love with her and that she found him deeply unsexy, but not that bad. Honestly, he was decent-looking, better-looking than he thought he was, but that moody boy-man Fillory shit cut like zero ice with her, and she was smart enough to know whose problem that was, and it wasn’t hers.”

Julia is casting a few stones at our hero Quentin, but Quentin is relatively stable compared to the snarled mess of snakes that are rolling around in her head. She has resentments, great big mounds of resentments that go back to the first book, The Magicians.

You see.

There is a magic school, not Hogwarts or any facsimile of such a school, called Brakebills.

Quentin got in.

Julie did not.

She went a little crazy. Then she went a lot crazy. Then she decided to give Brakebills the double finger salute and learn magic on her own. The only course open to her was the underground magic scene, most of them colossal losers, but she continued to sort through the rotten barrel of apples until she found one or two magicians worth taking a bite out of.

Quentin discovers that the fairy tale world that he grew up reading about was actually real. He finds a way to go there with his friends (including the moody but gorgeous Julia who he still carries a torch for), and after an epic battle they assume control of the kingdom of Fillory. Quentin is nearly chewed in half, and in need of some replacement parts. Thank goodness for centaurs.

The ones that survived and also decided to stay become Kings and Queens of Fillory. Eliot is the high King. Janet and Julia become Queens, and of course, Quentin rounds it out to make it four. As they lounge around with too few duties to occupy their time Quentin notices that he is putting on weight. ”No wonder kings looked so fat in pictures. One minute you’re Prince Valiant, the next you’re Henry VIII.”

He decides it is time for an adventure. Eliot isn’t that interested.

”I understand the appeal this sort of thing has for you, quests and King Arthur and all that. But that’s you. No offense, but it always seemed a bit like boy stuff to me. Sweaty and strenuous and just not very elegant, if you see what i mean. I don’t need to be called to feel special, I feel special enough already. I’m clever, rich, and good-looking. I was perfectly happy where I was , deliquescing, atom by atom, amid a riot of luxury.”

I wonder how long Eliot had that gem worked up in his head waiting for the perfect moment to trot it out for maximum effect.

After a few misstarts in finding the proper adventure, Quentin lands on the search for the seven golden keys. He is pleasantly surprised that Julia, damaged somewhat deranged Julia, decides to go with him. ”The wind had caught her black hair and was whipping it wildly around her face. She looked outrageously beautiful. It might have been a trick of the light, but her skin had a silvery, unearthly quality, as if it would shock him if he touched it. If they were going to fall in love with each other, it was going to happen on this ship.”

I’m going to take some of the suspense out of the epic romance scenario. It is not going to happen. Not that Julia was frigid, well cold, but not Arctic.

”There was enough hiding in life. Sometimes you just wanted to show somebody your tits.”

That would be everyone but Quentin. (Technically she does show him her breasts, but not under the circumstances that was part of a romantic interlude.)

The golden key quest goes sideways and Julia and Quentin are zipped out of Fillory and back to...OMG...Earth.

”Everything was toxic and chemical and unnatural; the plastic walnut trim, the electric lights, the burning gasoline that was shoving them forward. This whole world was a processed petroleum product.”

They need a kid and need one quickly.

”The boy had fine tousled brown hair and blue eyes. A more quintessential English moppet it would have been hard to find, right down to his having a spot of trouble pronouncing his l’s and r’s. He could have been cloned from Christopher Robin’s toenail clippings.”

Proper geography, perfect kid, games, and maybe, just maybe, a seam will open up taking them back to Fillory.

There may not be a more magical city in the world than Venice so it is no surprise that Lev Grossman takes us there as part of the Earth side of the adventure. There is also Neitherlands, the land between Fillory and Earth where they discover that magic is being systematically siphoned off from Earth and Fillory. The quest for the golden keys is now much more than just an adventure. It is a race to save magic and keep Fillory from becoming nothing more than a fairy tale memory. There are clock trees, the sound of crickets fucking (I’m still puzzling over what that sounds like.), talking fish, an animated corpse, a philosophical sloth, old pagan Gods (nasty buggers), a walk through the underworld, and death defying acts of courage.

Intermingled with Quentin’s misadventures is the back story of Julia before she gets to Fillory. With hard work, tenacity, and a few strategic hand jobs she was able to acquire the knowledge she needed to catch up and surpass the Brakebills’s whiz kids. With the help of the most talented underground magicians she attempts to summon an ancient god and something much more sinister appears.

It is a gut wrenching moment that bears too high a cost. Whatever conceived notions I had of Julia are rewritten in curlicues of pain, regret, and anguish.

I personally have no interest in meeting any GOD. How could they be anything but petulant, angry, unpredictable, violent, churlish, destructive, flaming…? Well, you know what I mean.

The book starts slow as did the first one, but Lev Grossman continues to build steam as the plot unspools. He hits his stride in the final half of each book, masterfully ratcheting up the tension leaving this reader with tingling nerves and a buzzing brain.

Quentin is far from the perfect hero. He is self-absorbed, privileged, but all of that is counterbalanced by his charming belief in the power of fairy tales. The ending left me gobsmacked and fumbling desperately for the third and final book in the trilogy. If you are looking for something to tide you over until J. K. Rowling decides to give in and write another Harry Potter book, this ain’t it. Quentin Coldwater and his friends are not Gryffindor material. This series is edgy, unpredictable, and moody with dysfunctional heroes that could hang with Bret Easton Ellis and think who brought the stiff?
Profile Image for Blair.
1,744 reviews4,171 followers
May 12, 2016
Let me begin this review by saying that I really enjoyed Lev Grossman's The Magicians. I didn't think it was perfect, by any means - I wasn't keen on Quentin, and the saga of his relationship with Alice and how he behaved about it really pissed me off - but altogether I found it to be an original, enjoyable, and gloriously escapist read. I will admit that I am not the biggest fan of all-out fantasy, but I liked the fact that The Magicians couched its fantastical elements in a recognisable version of the 'real world', which tends to be a difficult thing to pull off. Altogether, I'd been looking forward to this follow-up since it was first announced, and have had it on my wishlist since the title was confirmed. Therefore, it was a big disappointment, and a bit of a surprise, that I really didn't like it much at all.

The Magician King picks up some time after the end of the first book. Quentin and friends are still in Fillory, the Narnia-like magical alternate world, where they now reign as kings and queens. But typically, Quentin is restless and not particularly happy; he thinks there must be something more to achieve, and he sets off on a mission to recover taxes from a remote island, taking the increasingly aloof - and powerful - Julia with him. The story unfolds as a disjointed kind of quest that never really seems to go anywhere. There are moments of excitement, but what ends up happening is repeatedly anticlimactic. It's hard to tell whether this is intentional - obviously, the whole point of the Magicians books is to subvert the cosy stereotypes usually found in this type of tale. Either way, it feels very unsatisfying. Some chapters branch off into Julia's history, which I wanted to be interested in, but the book never quite shakes off the feeling that she's secondary to Quentin, plus she's just not very likeable - not to mention the fact that her story goes beyond ridiculous in the end.

And then there's the way it's all written, which I could talk about forever. There are knowing references to Harry Potter, Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, etc everywhere - to the point, for example, of Brakebills (this world's school of magic) actually being referred to as Hogwarts. It's like being constantly nudged and winked at, like the book is continually making sure you're 'in on the joke'. In the same vein, there's far too much swearing. I couldn't care less about swearing in books, it certainly doesn't offend me, but it's shoved into the narrative so often that it just becomes exhausting. The repeated lazy usage of 'shit' to mean stuff/things particularly grates. I presume this is all to hammer home that these characters are adults, that this world is far from whimsical despite the presence of talking animals and magical islands. It's so unnecessary, though.

Part-way through reading the book, I highlighted this passage to demonstrate a perfect example of the style:
Of course Iris had every right. That's how the system worked. She was doing Julia a fucking favor. Babysitting the noob was evidently not considered a premium assignment at Murs, and she wasn't going to pretend to enjoy it. Which whatever, but this did not oblige Julia to pretend to be grateful either. Really she ought to dog it a few times, she thought, just to piss Iris off. Show her that Julia had nothing to prove. See how long it took her to lose her shit.
I mean, 'noob'? 'Which whatever'? Fuck, piss and shit in one short paragraph for no real reason? Not long afterwards the word 'nomming' was seriously used, at which point I almost threw my Kindle at the wall. I get that the narrative is partly meant to represent the internal voice of Quentin/Julia, but god, it's irritating. And THE WHOLE BOOK is written like this. Afterwards, I had to find my copy of The Magicians to refresh my memory about the style - and yes, it had its fair share of profanity and slang, but The Magician King makes it look like a nominee for the Nobel prize for literature.

Perhaps this book will be more popular with readers more accustomed to and/or comfortable with fantasy fiction. Most of the events in Fillory, along with the climax of Julia's backstory, went too far into territory I found ludicrous and bizarre (in a bad way). I didn't like any of the characters, the interaction between Quentin and Poppy was sloppily done and unbelievable, I hated that Quentin was STILL hung up on the now-dead Alice having slept with Penny AFTER THEY SPLIT. Admittedly, I did at least feel compelled to keep reading right to the end; there's a few good bits, if you look for them. But it was a hard slog to finish the book and I doubt I'm going to be reading any further installments. Overall: a mess. 1.5 stars (narrowly missing out on a one-star review because it just isn't QUITE as bad as the other books I've given one star).
Profile Image for Samantha.
409 reviews16.7k followers
August 3, 2016
This series can be really frustrating because it takes everything you expect and think you know and goes "....nah."

I enjoyed this book so much more than the first one. The characters, while still realistic and frustrating, grew on me a lot and I found myself really caring for them. The introduction of a "new" character was also a great addition as well, and I enjoyed learning about their backstory.

I noticed a lot of connections being made between situations and characters in this book already, so I'm excited to see the conclusion and how everything is going to be wrapped up.

Full video review to come!
Profile Image for Mary ~Ravager of Tomes~.
347 reviews923 followers
October 3, 2017
"...he thought he'd learned a lesson about the world, and now he was realizing that the lesson he learned might've been the wrong one."

I would say that I enjoyed this installment only slightly less than The Magicians.

I've seen quite a few reviewers say the last two books in this series made up for how little they enjoyed the first, but having read The Magician King I honestly don't understand that statement.

The storytelling is somewhat more focused on a "quest" if you will, but for me this book read like a seamless continuation of the first.

Grossman's narration is still dark & cynical.

Characters are still assholes.

Expectations are still being turned on their heads.

Personally I think an idea like this one is genius.

Quentin & the gang are the exact opposite of what we want from typical heroes & heroines. They are relatable in the worst way, because they personify the parts of ourselves that we turn a blind eye to.

The story examines how we can simultaneously know everything & nothing about ourselves & who we are. It's both a criticism & an endorsement of the "happy ending" we've come to respect so much in our stories.

It's kind of dreadful to read a tale like this that is both depressing & beautiful at the same time. But it appealed to the dreadful parts of me I suppose.

I know this story isn't going to speak to everyone, and I think it's easy to get bogged down in the smaller details before the larger picture comes into view, but its message to me is loud & clear.

This review and other reviews of mine can be found on Book Nest!

Read this one with my buddy Jack!
Profile Image for Choko.
1,178 reviews2,570 followers
July 14, 2017
*** 3.44***

A Buddy read with the Wednesday Group @ BB&B

This was better. Better because we had the story of Julia. When the book started I thought I had missed something, since it was an idyllic picture of life in Fillory, where Quentin and Julia were co-rulers of the magical world, together with Eliot and Janet. Eliot is settling very well into the role of High King and all seems to go very well. I was a bit stumped... Why Julia? I was very pleased to be filled in into her story after she failed her test for the Esteemed College of Magic Brakebills. While Q was receiving the fruits of that coveted curriculum, Julia fought, scraped and scratched for even the smallest crumb of magical knowledge. After so many dead ends, she attempts to persuade Quentin get her into the school with his connections, but nothing comes of it. Julia looses hope and becomes a self-destructive, emotional mess of a human being...

"...“Julia would do anything to make the time pass. She killed time, murdered it, massacred it and hid the bodies. She threw her days in bunches onto the bonfire with both hands and watched them go up in fragrant smoke. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes it felt like the hours had ground to a halt. They fought her as they passed, one after the other, like stubborn stools.”..."

Her story is ugly, raw, gritty, but also so compelling, that you need to know every second of it. At moments you want to turn away, give her some privacy in moments of shame, embarrassment and degradation, but you keep on reading and hate when she does not give up more detail. At times the picture the author painted of her was uncomfortably reminiscent of a crackhead "jonesing" for their next hit of that magical rock, which promises 2-5 minutes of oblivion, never-mind what she has to do or sacrifice for it. The time after that is to far away to contemplate...

"...“He who completes a quest does not merely find something. He becomes something.” ..."

This is the book of quests. In a sense, all the characters are on a quest of their own, but we get the opportunity to concentrate on Quinton, always questing for that elusive "something better, something more", while rarely noticing the blessings in his life, and Julia, on a quest for much more than just Magic, a search for her complete self. Julia's story was so very strong, that it somewhat overshadowed the rest of the plot, which was not bad at all. Starting on a trip to collect taxes, the two of them end up on a quest to save Magic of all the worlds. On the way both have moments of enlightenment, but one of them seems to come off better than the other.

"...“You’re all so obsessed with other worlds, you’re so convinced that this one is crap and everywhere else is great, but you’ve never bothered to figure out what’s going on here!” ..."

This is where the truth lays, doesn't it. We never seem to see and appreciate what is in-front of us and where we have already arrived. For all of the overall bleak mood, i liked this book better than the first. It seemed like the author had much more of a purpose and idea where he wanted to lead with the story, thus controlling the action and pacing much better. The prose never had any problems - this is one very talented wordsmith and he uses that gift perfectly. What the issue has always been for me is the thematic of the series as a whole. O, he achieves making his point, I just hope that we get to a more promising end eventually. However, if we take this as the journey, then we have still a whole book to reach some minimal state of hope, right? After all, we got moments of brilliance in this one, and even the slowest of the characters to learn, Q still shows some negligible signs of maturity. It just seems that after every earth-shaking lesson he learns, he realizes it, recognizes the moment, but five minutes later he gets bored with it and shrugs it off, until the next moment of disaster. Then he is all to willing to return to the beginning... What is enough? When do we all stop and smell the roses? How much is enough, be it wealth, or love, or knowledge? Is there a moment when we truly feel "complete" and satisfied? If anyone knows the answer, I would appreciate it if you share it, because I have no idea... It seems like it should be clear, but then the world would be full of happy, balanced people, wouldn't it? And I somehow don't see it when I look around, but maybe it is only in my neighborhood. Probably in the county everyone is happy and accomplished, they just don't want to brag, since we might get jealous...

"...“Sometimes you just have to do things, Quentin,” Julia said, as he climbed on board after her. “You spend too much of your time waiting.”..."

I liked this book and am looking forward to the conclusion of the series. I hope our heroes find their way...

Now I wish you all Happy Reading and may you all find what you Need in the pages of a Good Book!!!
Profile Image for Jonathan McIntosh.
17 reviews23 followers
February 27, 2023
Book two is fulled with even more sexism then the first one, which is almost hard to imagine, but Lev Grossman manages to pull it off by writing like some kind of horny per-pubescent teenager looking for any flimsy excuse whatsoever to get his female characters topless so he can describe their breasts in feverish, obsessive, totally unnecessary and excruciating detail.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews766 followers
June 21, 2016
Volume 2 of a trilogy! (Pause for review readers to leave in droves)

OK, thank you for staying. So, The Magician King is indeed volume 2 of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy. The first book in the series was a New York Times bestseller, I don’t know if the other two books are also bestsellers. I read The Magicians in 2014, I thought it was pretty good but, like many Goodreads reviewers, I disliked the protagonist Quentin Coldwater. I thought he was a twat, useless, annoying and selfish. For this reason, alone I was not planning to read the remaining two volumes. However, earlier this year I watched Syfy’s adaptation of The Magicians, and I thought it was quite good*, and the dramatic finale made me want to get back into the books. Thank you, Syfy! (Not something I had any occasion to say in recent years).

The Magician King (terrible title) has a twin plotlines. The main plotline focuses on Quentin Coldwater and three other friends now comfortably ensconced in Fillory, a parallel world very much derivative of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. Living it up as royalty (hence the title), having graduated from Brakebills University (yes, deliberately derivative of J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts). The lazing about soon comes to an end when a tax discrepancy comes to light which unexpectedly leads to information that Fillory is in danger.

The secondary plot strand is a flashback that concerns Julie, a girl who was rejected by Brakebills and sacrifices everything she holds dear to learn magic from unlicensed organizations. Her quest to become a first class magician ends very badly for her even though she attains her objective. The price is much higher than anyone would want to pay.

The trouble with reviewing this series is that I feel the need to include the word “derivative” which usually has negative connotations. If this word is not included I have a feeling some review readers will roll their eyes and simply dismiss the series as a rip-off of classics of the fantasy genre. However, Grossman has done something very interesting with this series. In the previous book, he examines what a university of magic would be like in the real world, populated by realistic undergraduates, warts and all.

In this book he explores how a Narnia-like world would function, what would being a king or a queen of such a place really entail. The Magician King, even more than the previous book, is also a character study, charting the personal growth of Quentin Coldwater, Julie’s extremely traumatic journey to becoming an extraordinary magician.

Unlike the classic series that inspire it, the Magicians series is certainly not for kids, not even Y.A. There is some explicit sex and violence in The Magician King, including a rape scene. Game of Thrones fans should not have any problems. Besides looking at children’s fantasy tropes through adult lens The Magician King is also a fast-paced rip-roaring adventure tale in its own right, with quests, riddles, monsters and wild magic galore.

I have to say I like The Magician King much more than The Magicians, the protagonist of the previous book has matured considerably, becoming much less selfish and even heroic at times. At the beginning of the book Quentin is the same self-indulgent character carried over from the previous book—but with one important difference—he aspires to be a hero.

By the end of the book, he achieves that but finds that heroism is not all it is cracked up to be. I won’t elaborate on this, but consider whether Batman is a happy hero, and you will get the idea. I also enjoy Grossman’s writing style, witty, funny, and packed full of pop culture references (bonus points for mentioning Van Halen and the TARDIS).

I find The Magician King to be a very good read, and I am looking forward to reading the last volume The Magician's Land, terrible title notwithstanding.
* Not as good as Syfy’s adaptation of The Expanse, based on James S.A. Corey’s space opera series of the same name. Now that is the bee’s knees!

“Supposedly the Thames dragon wrote most of Pink Floyd’s stuff. At least after Syd Barrett left. But there’s no way to prove it.”

“I’m Quentin. I’m from Fillory. We’ve come to your island in search of a key.” He glanced at the others and coughed once. It was pretty much impossible to do this without sounding like he was reciting a Monty Python sketch.

“It wasn’t the Fellowship of the Ring, but then again he wasn’t trying to save the world from Sauron, he was attempting to perform a tax audit on a bunch of hick islanders.”

“Google Street View was an absolute boon to the art and craft of creating long-distance portals.”

“The only shortage that the Fillorian economy suffered from was a chronic shortage of shortages.”

“Sometimes I think I am fate’s sword. She wields me cruelly.”
Quentin wondered what it was like to be so unselfconsciously melodramatic. Nice, probably.”

“He liked the dryads, the mysterious nymphs who watched over oak trees. You really knew you were in a magical fantasy otherworld when a beautiful woman wearing a skimpy dress made of leaves suddenly jumped out of a tree.”

It is interesting to note that the first book of the trilogy, The Magicians, is the most divisive. It is the most commercially successful but, looking at the GR reviews, a sizable section of the buyers dislike it. Its average GR rating (at the time of writing) is 3.47. This second volume, The Magician King, has a much smaller readership (less than half of book#1 according to GR’s number of ratings), but a higher average score of 3.89. I suppose that means the people who disliked the first book have already jumped ship. More interesting still, the final volume The Magician's Land again has a reduced readership, but an average rating of 4.17. Presumably by the final book only hardcore fans remain!
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 111 books709 followers
September 7, 2011
When I finished The Magicians I found myself confused. Was Grossman satirizing the genre or contributing to it? I decided that he had set out to do the former, and wound up doing the latter. He somehow fell into that enviable position where his fantasy work was considered literary by the mainstream community that often scorns genre work.

A sequel, it would seem to me, is more of a declaration. Satires don't have sequels. So called literary fiction doesn't often have sequels. Grossman goes all in.

So, it's a fantasy sequel about some disaffected twentysomethings, last seen as disaffected teens. It tells two interlaced stories, one present and one in the recent past. It continues to show the darker side of the somewhat bloodless battles and magics one sees in YA fantasy. But here's the thing: they're adults now. And violence in ADULT fantasy is nothing new. The result is an odd mix: moody and petulant child-adults drifting through a children's fantasy world trying to figure out the rules and mostly falling onto the next step by pure dumb luck.

I liked the main characters better than I did in the first book. I still got frustrated with Quentin's ennui, but it helped that he himself was willing to address his disaffection this time. It was interesting to see Julia's side of the story, largely untold in the first book, though I got frustrated with elements of her journey as well.

I'm wavering between three and four stars. Four because I found it hard to put the book down, and it did have some neat settings and situations. Three because many of the secondary characters fell a bit flat to me, and several threads dropped off without being regathered. Characters appeared out of convenience and then disappeared again.
Four because Quentin had a better arc than in the first book. Three because I'm going to go with the four, but know that it is a star with an asterisk. I enjoyed the book as I was reading it, but it is souring a little as I write about it. No, I'm going to go with the three. I liked it. I liked it as much as the first one, which I gave a four. Now I'm thoroughly confused.

Profile Image for Maureen.
493 reviews4,206 followers
May 1, 2016
3.5/5 stars
I've gotta admit, I didn't enjoy this as much as book one, but it's still so interesting. I love that this series is like a more "realistic" fairy tale where not everything is perfect and amazing all the time, but it's still not really an anti-fairy tale.
The characters are still wonderfully flawed, and I really enjoyed getting to see more of Julia's back story, but it was just harder to get through. It didn't grip me as much as book one did.
The audiobook narrator is still fantastic though - I don't know if I would've liked it as much reading the physical book.
Will definitely be reading book 3, however, because THAT ENDING THO
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,601 reviews1,669 followers
December 17, 2021
November 2021: Now I'm remembering why this was only four stars. What was otherwise a clever play on Lewis's Voyage of the Dawn Treader had the oomph taken out of its sails (heh) by a completely unnecessary scene at the end. More on this in a bit.

Quentin is still having his identity crisis all over the place in this one, but he's much less obnoxious about it here than in the first book. The real centerpiece of this book is Julia, as we get to see her as Queen of Fillory in the present day, where something is obviously wrong with her in addition to her being supremely powerful, and we also see flashbacks to her past, from the time she failed the exam at Brakebills to the present day. How she came to learn magic was much scarier and heart-rending than the way Quentin did. It provides a really nice contrast to the first book. Her problems are much more grounded and less egocentric than Quentin's.

Where this book loses me is what happens to Julia in the last flashback.

Aside from that one huge complaint, this is an assured book that takes a new spin on old fantasy tropes and manages to avoid the middle book dip.

September 2015:

"The hero pays the price."

Well, shit.

If you would have told me last month that not only would I give The Magicians (THE MAGICIANS) four stars, but that I would get so worked up by its sequel that I would burst into tears, I would NOT have believed you. I got soooooo mad and weird when I read The Magicians five years ago, I swore I would never read any sequels, or anything else Lev Grossman ever wrote, and then somewhere along the line I changed my mind, acquired the sequels (in hardcover even) and decided to re-read. As of writing this, I haven't written my review of #1 because it's going to take some thinking, but I wanted to shoot off a quick review of this one before it fades from my mind.

The Magician King picks up two years after the end of the first book. Quentin, Julia, Eliot and Janet are kings and queens in Fillory, but Quentin has grown fat and bored with his pampered life, because of course he has. Quentin has always been the kind of person who is so up his own butt that he expects the world to just give him what he needs to be happy. It's this weird privileged mindset that all of Grossman's genius character seem to have, but Quentin is the worst of the lot. This turns out to be okay, though, as the book is very much about his journey to unlearn the way he sees himself and the world. Essentially, Quentin has to grow up, and he has to do it the hard way.

Another thing that elevates this book above the first one is that half of it is Julia's story. It fills in the blanks, how she got from that winter's day when she failed the Brakebills exam to being the most powerful magician that any of them know. In a lot of places her story is sort of hard to read, but it's also really interesting, seeing the back-alley approach to magical education. I thought the parallel narratives actually worked really well together, as Quentin and Julia et al go questing in a very Voyage of the Dawn Treader meta sort of way in the present day story, right alongside the flashbacks into Julia's magical education.

Anyways, I'm super glad I got back into this series, and I have high hopes for the third and final book.
Profile Image for Stefan.
405 reviews164 followers
January 10, 2012
(This review contains spoilers for The Magicians (book 1 in this series), but no significant spoilers for The Magician King. It was originally published on www.tor.com on 8/8/2011 and on www.fantasyliterature.com on 8/16/2011.)

At the end of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Brakebills graduate Quentin Coldwater abandoned a cushy but dead-end insecure job to become co-ruler of the magical land of Fillory with his former classmates Eliot and Janet and his erstwhile flame Julia. I absolutely loved the drama of that final scene, with Eliot, Janet and Julia hovering thirty stories up in the air and shattering Quentin’s office window to drag him along on this new adventure.

The Magicians left lots of questions unanswered. How did Julia meet Eliot and Janet, and how exactly did she get so strong? What happened to Josh? Or Penny, for that matter? What was actually going on with the whole Neitherlands setup? Is it just a coincidence that it resembled a huge version of a welters board? (Or more likely the other way round: is the welters board meant to look like a small Neitherlands grid?) And what, most importantly, were these four disaffected young magicians thinking, installing themselves as the rulers of Narnia, sorry, Fillory? As much as I loved The Magicians for presenting a solid stand-on-its-own story, it was at the same time practically begging for a sequel. Thank goodness it’s finally here.

At the start of The Magician King, Quentin, Janet, Eliot and Julia are comfortably set up as the kings and queens of Fillory, with Eliot the nominal High King. They lead the leisurely lives of figurehead royalty, eating and drinking luxuriously, going on the occasional royal hunt, waving to the populace from the balcony of their palace. They’re basically lazing around and enjoying themselves. The only thing that proves to be lacking in their lives as the rulers of a magical utopia proves to be, well, a challenge. Or as Quentin realizes, somewhat counter-intuitively in the first chapter of the novel:

Being king wasn’t the beginning of the story, it was the end. [...] This was the happily ever after part. Close the book, put it down, walk away.

Meanwhile, Julia has amped up her goth appearance and become increasingly quiet and mysterious. She’s “gone native” and, Quentin notes, seems to have given up using contractions altogether. Something has happened to her, something that left her powerful but damaged. Quentin wonders how expensive her education was, and it’s clear that he’s not thinking of the cost in terms of a monetary value.

Eventually, Quentin realizes that all this lying around isn’t exactly what he had in mind when he relocated to the magical realm of Fillory, so he jumps at the first chance to do something semi-meaningful: he will conduct an expedition to Outer Island, a tiny and remote speck-on-the-map, predominantly inhabited by fishermen who haven’t paid their taxes for a while. It’s clear that the taxes aren’t really what’s important here — after all, Fillory is a land of hyperabundance and the only problem with its economy is a chronic shortage of actual shortages. Quentin is just itching to do something heroic, and if that involves refitting a ship (the Muntjac) and setting out to talk to some yokels about their back taxes, at least it also includes an exciting sea voyage and some new horizons.

So Quentin sets out on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Muntjac, accompanied by a sullen apprentice cartographer named Benedict, the best swordsman in the realm (who goes by the unlikely name of Bingle), a talking sloth, and the ever-mysterious Julia. This journey will take them to the one place you’d least suspect — at least if you haven’t read the plot summary on the inside flap of the novel — and eventually to a quest that, yes, will determine the very fate of Fillory....

If you loved The Magicians as much as I did, you’ll probably be pleased with The Magician King. Yes, the novelty has worn off a bit, but in exchange you get a story that’s actually more structured and more obviously working its way towards a solid finale than the first novel’s. It’s a proper adventure, really, although as you’d probably expect there are some false starts, detours and roundabouts along the way. You’ll also get answers to some of the questions that were left unanswered in The Magicians, but new questions pop up to take their place. I wish authors did requests, because I now have a list of possible subjects for future stories that could expand on things that are only hinted at here. At one point, a character throws out the idea of inverse profundity — "The deeper you go into the cosmic mysteries, the less interesting everything gets.” I haven’t experienced that yet with these books. Quite the opposite, really.

The most noticeable change in The Magician King is that Julia takes over the spotlight for a good chunk of the novel. Once Lev Grossman has set up Quentin’s quest, roughly every other chapter starts filling in Julia’s story, recounting what happened to her between her failed entrance exam at Brakebills and the final scene of The Magicians. The good news is that she’s a fascinating character and that her storyline adds a whole new dimension to this fantasy universe. The bad news, at least for people who groused about the mopiness and general “insanely privileged but still too myopic to be happy” quality of people like Quentin and Eliot, is that Julia is, well, like that, too. Sort of. To be fair, her depression seems to be more of the chemical imbalance variety, rather than Quentin’s all-purpose teenage angst. More importantly (and fortunately) she’s got the gumption to actually do something about what’s lacking in her life. She picks herself up and finds her way into an underground scene for people who want to learn magic but didn’t make it into Brakebills. (Lev Grossman also put me out of my misery by finally throwing in a very welcome reference. Julia always reminded me of someone, but I could never put my finger on it, and now I finally know who it was: Fairuza Balk’s character in The Craft.) By the time Julia’s and Quentin’s plots converge, you’ll have answers to several questions, but again, also many new ones. Julia’s storyline is what makes The Magician King a great book.

Meanwhile, Quentin is on his quest, and in the process finds out all sorts of fascinating things about the nature of the Neitherlands, the current whereabouts of some of his other friends, and the origins of magic. For much of the novel, the entire quest seems to be one gigantic red herring. Quentin often has the feeling that he’s in a fantasy novel, just not a proper one. At one point, he hilariously realizes that it’s very hard to deliver his lines without sounding like a Monty Python skit. At other times, he feels like he’s improvising in a play to which everyone has the script, or like he might be a minor character in someone else’s story. He also feels the acute lack of a soundtrack during combat scenes. (At that point, I couldn’t help thinking of another movie: A Knight’s Tale, with its rock soundtrack that provided such a jarring but effective contrast with what was actually happening on screen. Both of these novels often create a literary version of that type of cognitive dissonance, e.g. when someone uses Google Street View to pinpoint the exact location for a magical portal, or uses magic to jailbreak an iPhone.)

The Magician King is a deceptively cheerful book, because even if it all seems like a lark for Quentin early on, there’s a darker undercurrent right from the beginning. Regardless, it’s again a highly entertaining book to read because it’s filled with cultural references, from Shakespeare to video games and, of course, lots of fantasy. There are so many of these that the prose practically sparkles with possible points of contact for the larger geek culture out there. Grossman also sets up several scenes perfectly, leading you to expect something to happen, only to find out that you’re having the rug pulled out from under you, sometimes in a way that’s truly, horribly shocking. I fell for these hook, line and sinker. Be warned, gentle reader.

If you loved The Magicians, you probably don’t need much convincing to check out this sequel. Yes, it’s a very different book: the whole Harry Potter shtick is basically gone, Quentin has gained some welcome confidence, Julia is front and center. At the same time, it riffs on the same themes and ideas that made The Magicians so good, and it adds some layers to the story and the fantasy universe. Some of these don’t exactly line up for me yet, but maybe all will be explained in another sequel? There’d better be another book in this series, because dammit, I want more.
Profile Image for Elizabeth  .
387 reviews73 followers
August 27, 2016
Wow, I didn't think I could like Quentin Coldwater *less* than I did in The Magicians, but it is, in fact, possible. There is no moment in this book when I do not despise the protagonist.

At least in this one, we got Julia's story, which had some interesting moments, especially the scenes in the safe houses. It also had some really bad moments. In no particular order: I am insulted on behalf of us non-magical scholars that the Murs magicians come up with a system that ties together all world religions and beliefs in a matter of months; I am deeply fucking offended by Grossman's portrayal of Free Trader Beowulf and the policing of depression he describes; I am even more offended by the rape scene, which was just gratuitous. (I am restraining myself from calling it every synonym of gratuitous that I know. Seriously, it adds nothing to the narrative.)

Poppy is the only goddamn redeeming feature here, and I lose a lot of respect for her in the last pages, when she walks away from her dissertation on dragons to be a queen in Fillory. There are no dragons in Fillory! Her life is on Earth! There is no freakin' motivation given for that turnabout whatsoever, except "Fillory needs me" and I frankly do not buy that, since after X hundred pages in two books, I still have no understanding of what makes Fillory awesome. And Poppy has never been to Fillory proper, she has spent her entire journey on a damn boat.

I quit. If this is what fantasy looks like when it's grownup and respectable, I want to stay in the slums.
Profile Image for Terry .
394 reviews2,144 followers
August 13, 2014
_The Magician King_ is a good book. Still, I found the first half to be a bit of a slow start that was by turns frustrating and enjoyable in almost equal measure, so I kept vacillating between a 3 and 4 for it, so I think it ends up for me at a fairly solid 3.5. The book itself is divided into two more or less equal story halves: one follows Quentin and his friends in Fillory as they go on a diplomatic mission of purely cursory import that turns into a fairly inconsequential 'quest'…this in turn ends up having wider ramifications (though it didn’t totally pull together for me…or to be more precise in many ways it pulled together a little too neatly); the second flashes back to show us what Quentin's old friend Julia was up to while Quentin was doing the Harry Potter shuffle at Brakebills.

I think most of the frustrating elements had to do with Quentin, the main character, and the first part of the story. It can certainly be said that he's less of a prat here than he was in _The Magicians_, but somehow I still found him a bit more grating here. Wasn't the whole point of the first volume that he was growing up? Looks like he still didn't learn a heck of a lot from his first series of adventures and was living life in Fillory more or less in the same way as he lived it on Earth in the first book...any wonder he's still complaining? Granted Quentin is supposed to be a more or less realistic 'broken hero', but he seemed to be a touch too pusillanimous for me. His constant whining that where he was right now wasn't where he wanted to be anymore seemed a bit crazy to me given everything he went through in the first book. I mean sure, the human condition pretty much runs on the concept of "the grass is always greener" and again, Quentin is meant to be an exemplar...but c'mon Q. grow a pair will you?

I found the story of Julia and her harrowing journey on the road to becoming a hedge witch to be a much more compelling tale. The Fillory quest half of the book actually picks up at around book 3 where Quentin and Julia return from an interlude on earth to Fillory...prior to that the questing seemed a little too much like fill in the number plot coupon fantasy that was being followed for the heck of it. Also, some of the dovetailing of various plot elements that went into the quest’s development and resolution seemed a little too neat for me. Everything seemed to work out exactly as required even when it seemed to be going off the rails and Grossman’s meta-textual references to this fact in the text didn’t make it much more interesting or palatable. Still, Quentin seems to have (finally?) grown up and there was enough good stuff in the story to outweigh the bad.
Profile Image for Stephanie *Eff your feelings*.
239 reviews1,184 followers
July 11, 2015
Though I wasn't totally in love with the first book in this series, The Magicians, I did like this book a bit better.

In the Magician Kings we meet up with Quentin and friends again, this time as kings and queens of Fillory. Fillory is a magical place outside of Earth as we know it. I found this king and queen stuff corny, and I still couldn't stand the whiny, self absorbed Quentin......twerp. I'm sure the author ment for him to be that annoying but I could bearly stand him. For the first half of the book my eyes did a lot of rolling, and I muttered a few "come on's" under my breath. But things thankfully picked up for the last half of the book.

Julia's story saved this book for me. Julia is one of Quentin's high school friends who took the Breakbills (think Hogwarts at the college level) entrance exam, but failed. Her memory of Breakbills was supposed to wiped out when she was sent away, but it didn't work. So she went out on her own learning magic, not an easy task. She made many sacrifices to gain proficiency, and knowledge, which made her the best out of all of them. I doubt very much that Quentin would have had the nads to do the same.

The plot twists at the end were quite good, but of course I can't spoil those for you, and they made this book worth the read. Even made up for Quentin's douchieness.
Profile Image for Madeline.
771 reviews47k followers
August 20, 2012
"So Madeline," say you, my imaginary reading companion, "what did you think of The Magician King, Lev Grossman's sequel to that book that smashed your childhood love of fantasy stories into smithereens? Does the second book achieve similar levels of heart-crushing, or is it more of a balm after the pain of the first book (since in this one, the kids get to live in Fillory and be royalty)?"

To you, faithful reader, I reply that everything you need to know about what kind of book The Magician King is can be found in the following excerpt:

"'This isn't how it ends!' Quentin said. 'I am the hero of this goddamned story, Ember! Remember? And the hero gets the reward!'
'No, Quentin,' the ram said. 'The hero pays the price.'"

God damn you, Lev Grossman. You magnificent bastard.
Profile Image for R.K. Gold.
Author 13 books10.1k followers
January 20, 2018
1.5/5 but closer to 2
Like the first it succeeded in entertainment but not much else. There wasn't so much as plot holes as insufficient fillers that seemed a little rushed. It wasn't enough to take me out of the story but I did ask myself a few times while reading this what the point was with a few scenes and why certain things were explained in such detail while more important elements were just glossed over.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,911 followers
July 12, 2015
Most of the book had transformed into boilerplate fantasy adventure. If I had a nickel for every time that Quentin used his byline, "Let's go on a quest," I could probably afford a bean burrito at Taco Hell. He steamrolled everything and everyone in his path to get exactly what he wanted or what he believed to be a righteous cause, and except for a few casualties along the way, we, as readers, get to watch him be the the greatest casualty of his own adventure.

The last development somewhat redeemed the rest of his humdrum story, but honestly, I wished there were more dire consequences heaped upon him. He's only middling likeable. In fact, because the books are written pretty well, it just highlights just how much I can't gloss over Quentin's no sense of wonder. It's like he's just going through the motions no matter what he ends up doing, and he's one of the four freaking kings of a Narniaesque land. "Let's go on a quest!"

If the author is actually peering at us through the pages and showing us his true colors, then I'd be tempted to say he despises the genre, so it begs the question... why is he writing in it? It's technically good, after all, and it even shows some really clever and interesting jumps in characterization and development. Unfortunately, the plot keeps running afoul of that great mechanism in the sky being cranked by a great silvery being.

I keep thinking about that one line from the first book where Alice complained at Quentin that he was the only student in the school who truly believed in magic, despite the fact that all the actual practitioners performed magic daily. It always struck me as WRONG. Even if Quentin still believes in the sanctity of Narniaesque, I never once got the real feeling that he really loved the place. Not really. It was always a place to run to or lounge in or perform some great deed to justify his being such a useless wastrel. I submit that Alice was plain wrong. He is the antithesis of love.

On the other hand, Julia was probably one of the most delightful of characters in either novel, and I did get the feel of complete obsession and grasping joy surrounding the magic she had been denied, like an addict or a spurned lover. She's miserable throughout the novels, but at least she actually felt thirteen steps closer to grasping the love the Quentin was enveloped in but couldn't sense. She had real obstacles to overcome and paid a real price. If anything, she completely puts Quentin to shame in every single quantifiable way, and she lost her humanity, her mind, her self-respect, and her expectation of joy; and believe it or not, I think she got the better end of the deal.

I thoroughly loved every part of her backstory and eventually came to dread coming back to the "present". In the end, I wish the whole book had been Julia's. I'd probably have no problems giving this a full 5 stars, and happily. She was always the underdog as opposed to the privileged upper-class and world-weary idiot, and who really cares about the ennui of the disaffected rich, anyway?

Maybe this is just my middle-class upbringing and sensibilities coloring my reading, and perhaps I ought to drape a cigarette over my fingers and let my face go slack in absolute boredom and gush over how, finally, one fantasy writer has FINALLY captured the world-weary worldview of the privileged and elite, but no. It's not going to happen.

I'll keep reading through the third book because I've been promised that happy endings do eventually come to those who wait, and I do like all the characters enough to forgive most of their foibles. Usually, the big ideas can be enough to firmly root me to a series even if I'm pissed at the characters, and this one has enough ground that I'm satisfied. Seven keys was kinda hokey, but the eventual grand quest was all right, even if it kinda fizzled like a T S Eliot poem at the end.

Do I recommend? Well, I've read a lot of fantasy that is much worse than this, and most of my complaint stems from the misplaced hope that it can rise above the simmering hint of greatness. I keep looking for that spark that will send this into the sky. Maybe it will show up in the third novel. I don't know.
Profile Image for Eric.
867 reviews74 followers
March 28, 2016
I clearly liked this book better than The Magicians, as I rated it five stars, where I rated the prior four stars. But why? A number of reasons:

1) The world-building was already done.

In the first book, Grossman took a lot of time to set up his fantasy multiverse, including creating a quidditch-like game, Welters, which didn't add anything to the overall story, and sending Quentin-and-company on a semester abroad to the antarctic as geese, which, despite being in a fantasy novel, was still too ridiculous to be taken seriously (it was the Tom Bombadil moment of the first book). In the second book, the exposition is all out of the way. The reader knows Quentin and his friends, their x-rated Hogwarts, and the pseudo-Narnia lurking just beyond the looking glass. This accelerates the adventure in the story, where in the first book, the real adventure doesn't begin until Quentin finishes his somewhat tedious slog through magic school.

2) The pacing was better.

The story is entirely linear in the first novel, and the pacing is a bit jerky. This novel, however, starts off rolling right from the beginning, and is cut with flashback segments of Julia's self-education as a hedge witch, which helped keep the adventure from flying by too quickly. It makes me wonder if the first book could have been told in the same way, with Quentin's first quest to Fillory being interspersed with flashbacks to his Brakebills education.

3) There was less sex.

Now I can't believe I just wrote that, because I am very liberal in my tastes -- there is not much I find to be too crude, vulgar, or over-the-top. But that is not why I didn't appreciate the sex in the first book, it was because it happened so frequently without advancing the story -- almost to say, hey look, this isn't Harry Potter, Quentin can fuck anybody, and everybody! The only sex that really did affect the plot was pairing of Penny and Alice, and that was the only sex scene that wasn't shown to the reader. In the second book, Grossman makes allusions to sex, but does not unnecessarily detail every orgasm a character does or doesn't have.

4) The tone is established.

Grossman had to do a lot of work to show everyone exactly what kind of urban fantasy he was creating in the first book, especially with all the Harry Potter and Narnia lampshading and head nodding. But here he moves past that, and just creates an awesome urban fantasy with interesting characters and a great story-line.

5) Quentin whined less.

The title speaks for itself on that one.

I am very much looking forward to reading the third book, The Magician's Land, especially because of the dark-as-hell ending of this book almost has me wondering if Quentin could become the villain of the story -- because one one hand, I wouldn't mind , but on the other hand, . But that's just me.
Profile Image for Warwick.
812 reviews14.5k followers
June 9, 2017
I had really enjoyed The Magicians but I was a little confused about its intentions – was it a deconstruction of, and comment on, the fantasy genre; or did it want to be taken seriously as a work of fantasy in its own right? There was a sense of Grossman trying to have his cake and eat it too, and although the results had an inherent tension that I found very rewarding, it also somehow fell between two stools. Have you got that – a half-eaten cake between two stools? Right, we're on the same page. If the cake and stools are also on a page. Let's move on.

Anyway, so the sequel would, I thought, be more of a declaration of intent. The slightly twee rubbishness of Fillory in the first book made sense as a way of discussing the limitations of fantasy utopias, but as a setting for a real attempt at world-building and epic drama it didn't seem very promising. To my irritation but also my grudging admiration, Grossman continues to try to push both angles at once in this middle book, writing a standard quest narrative whose participants are self-aware enough to make it kind-of-sort-of-just-about work as a commentary on quest narratives too.

The jumping-off point is essentially where a book like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ends – with four kids from Earth ensconced as kings and queens of a fantasy realm, and it attempts to consider what this would actually be like. What would you do all day? How would you run a magical kingdom? Is there admin? Would it be mind-numbingly boring? Running alongside this is an episodic, analeptic retracing of what Julia was up to during the events of the first book – her story does a lot to flesh out Grossman's world and his idea of magic, and her narrative offers a very welcome counterpoint to Quentin's point of view (though he, too, has noticeably matured from the adolescent dick he was in book one). Julia's story is gritty and goes to some very dark places, but it's nice to see that she's just as fucked-up as he is, if not more so.

What I like about these books is the narrative tone, the slangy conversational awareness, the snappy one-liners about other fantasy reference-points, the allusions to D&D, Gauntlet, Dr Who. I can understand why dedicated fantasy fanboys find Grossman's approach disrespectful or overly cynical, but for me, as someone who grew up loving the genre but who now finds its earnestness hard to escape into, the register is perfectly pitched. A sequence where our heroes go back to the original home of the CS-Lewis-like author of the books-within-a-book, and discover a yuppie estate with a precocious child who ‘could have been cloned from Christopher Robin's toenail clippings’, is a set-piece that encapsulates all of Grossman's meta-generic playfulness (as well as some of the problems with his plotting and pacing).

The incorporation of religion with magic in this book was particularly interesting – at first it made me angry, and, like Julia, I found myself needing to suppress my ‘intellectual gag reflex’. Eventually it occurred to me that this irritation was not exactly commensurate with suspending disbelief in a world with talking sloths and magic haberdashery. If magic is real – a part of the real world that we know – then where does that leave religion, exactly? This turned out to be more interesting than I realised and I was wondering about the implications for much longer than I expected to – one of the many ways this series can annoy and intrigue you all at once.

I'm not sure how to call it. There are a couple of characters whose fates appear to have been ignored – we'll see if he comes back to them in the final book. If he does sort out some of those loose ends, and manages to keep the writing fun without succumbing to the temptation to make everything all serious and important for the big finish, then he'll be forgiven for quite a lot I reckon. One of the tonally weirdest series I can remember reading for some time….
Profile Image for Lightreads.
641 reviews523 followers
September 1, 2011
I’ve been sitting on this review for weeks, waiting for my thoughts to settle. This is a frustrating, slippery, controlled, funny, beautiful book, and it left me with very complicated feelings.

It’s a double-stranded narrative: one is Quentin, bored with being King of Fillory and off on a grand sea voyage that takes him through multiple worlds and to the making and unmaking of universes. The other is Julia. Oh, Julia. Who didn’t make it into special people magic school like Quentin, and who had to force her way into power by a completely different route. Her story is – jesus. It left me nailed to my chair, tears prickling just behind my eyes, having one of those weird experiences where you emerge from the book and wonder sincerely whether you’ve been breathing for the past ten minutes.

Here’s where the complicated feelings start. Quentin says early on that magic school had “taught them to be arch and ironic about magic, but Julia took it seriously.” Well, of course. Being arch and ironic about something is the privilege of those who were given it on a silver platter; it’s not often available to someone who had to tear out her soul by the roots just to get a glimpse. Grossman puts his finger closer to it when he says, “She didn’t hate Quentin, that wasn’t it. Quentin was fine. He was just in the way. He’d gotten it so easy, and she had it so hard, and why? There was no good reason: he passed a test and she failed it. That was a judgment on the test, not on her.” Which is a pithy summary of being on the wrong end of privilege, if I’ve ever heard one.

My point being that this book is arch and ironic about fantasy literature, right up to the point where it takes it deadly seriously. And I love that. Except the things you get to be arch and ironic about and the things you get to be serious about are really telling; they dig deep into whether you’ve had . . . access to fantasy, I guess. Whether anyone let you into the club, and how hard you had to work at it, depending on whether there was ever anyone like you or a world like yours in fantasy. Whether, to appropriate a perfect metaphor and shove it sideways, you have been permitted to dream of dragons.

I responded on this intense, visceral level to this book because I’ve been both Quentin and Julia at different times. I’ve taken both their routes in pursuit of power, education, money, respect. So the places where I could take this book with arch irony and the places where I had to take it deadly seriously are idiosyncratic, and they didn’t always line up with where Grossman was being arch and ironical and where he was being serious. Which doesn’t make this book wrong, it just made me pace a lot, and chew my nails, and want to strangle Quentin slightly more than he deserves strangling. (Which is still a moderate amount, by the way. There’s this moment early on where Quentin basically thinks “oh good, we’re traveling together, this is where we can fall in love and have sex.” And it is a measure of the effectiveness of the rest of this book how that becomes exponentially more self-absorbed and horrible the more you read.)

Anyway, long review short, it’s great. Seriously. There’s this definition of magic, “it was what happened when the mind met the world, and the mind won for a change.” Which encapsulates a lot about this book, and the way it loves fantasy, and the way it uses that love to talk about writing your own story, and how being a hero is, as a nested folk tale says, about knowing the right cues, but how it’s also other stuff.
Profile Image for Cameron Chaney.
Author 6 books1,811 followers
August 6, 2017
Well, thank God that chore is over. I've already wasted enough time on this book so I won't write a long review. I'll just say that nothing freaking happens in this artsy-posing piece of trash. Except someone does get graphically raped by an enormous fox god. That's a thing that happened. *angry sigh*
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,005 reviews2,597 followers
April 25, 2015
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum http://bibliosanctum.com/2014/07/31/b...

Back in my review of The Magicians, I wrote that you could have a miserably unlikeable character for the sake of writing a miserably unlikeable character and that I wouldn’t mind, just as long as you could give me a reason to care about him or her. While that’s still true, it does really help if your protagonist isn’t a whiny little ingrate and actually shows growth over the course of the novel. I really think that’s why The Magician King worked better for me than its predecessor. Like, a lot better. The ending of the first book gave me hope that I would enjoy the sequel more, and I did.

Things were looking up right from the start, with our story opening with a return to Fillory, the otherworldly realm from Quentin’s beloved childhood fantasy series that turned out to be a real place. He and his friends are now the kings and queens of this magical kingdom, but after a routine morning hunt goes wrong, Quentin and Julia decide to set off across the seas to the far reaches of Fillory to take care of certain matters. But their journey is interrupted by an unceremonious ejection from Fillory back to Earth and the mundane world. Thus begins an epic quest to find their way back, with the fate of all magic hanging in the balance.

I’ll admit it, the first book had its high points, but on the whole I wasn’t too enamored. The wonderful sections featuring Quentin at Brakebills aside, I thought most of the book was directionless and tedious, and I wasn’t impressed with the characters and their attitudes until almost the very end when they discover Fillory and set out to explore it. The thing is, I loved the spellbinding world of Fillory and its amazing denizens, as well as the incredible sights and sounds. When the final pages of The Magicians teased that we may be going back, I was very pleased. That’s one reason why The Magician King worked better for me; the fact that we got to be in Fillory right away was a huge plus.

The second reason is something I’ve already alluded to, that being Quentin has come a long way from the moody, self-absorbed and aimless young man he was in book one. He has grown up a lot between the two novels in my eyes, no doubt in part due to the traumatic events he experienced at the end of The Magicians. His concern for a young crew member and the neglected daughter of a diplomat really touched me; it’s not something I would have expected in a million years from the old Quentin. In this book, he is driven and finds it possible to become excited about the prospects of adventure again, and – shocker! – in the process he became someone I wanted to read more about.

The same could not be said for Julia, however. My one gripe about this novel are her chapters, which more or less alternated with the chapters focusing on the main story. Julia’s tale encompasses her own rise to the world of magic after failing her Brakebills entrance exam, which couldn’t have been more different than Quentin’s academically formal training. Her journey through the underground magical scene is actually quite interesting, though I was initially unsure how it all related to the book’s central premise. What bothered me wasn’t so much her story, but the fact that the role of annoyingly maudlin and dissatisfied character seemed to have been passed from Quentin to Julia, though we do see that she has had to go through a lot of suffering and very difficult times. I could also appreciate how the two lines of thought eventually came together, but felt that her “backstory” was a bit distracting at first.

All in all, however, I was pleasantly surprised by my positive reactions to this book. On the whole, this was a much deeper and complex novel, but also much more entertaining and engaging on multiple levels. I liked how a lot of the world was expanded, as well as the answers to a lot questions brought up by the first book. And that ending! I can’t believe my heart is actually aching for Quentin. It’s very rare for a sequel to grab me, especially since book one failed to do so, and it’s great whenever that happens. I’m really starting to see the appeal behind this series, and this second installment has really made it grow on me.
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