Blair's Reviews > The Magician King

The Magician King by Lev Grossman
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's review
Dec 09, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: sff, read-on-kindle, 2011-release

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).
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Reading Progress

December 9, 2010 – Shelved
August 14, 2011 –
13.0% "Really not much into this at all so far, but I'll keep going with it, and hope it'll pick up..."
August 16, 2011 –
35.0% "Hmm, I AM interested in what happens, but the writing in parts (a lot of parts) is so clumsy I'm finding it painful to read."
Started Reading
August 20, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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Matt I just finished this book a few minutes ago... Your review absolutely NAILS pretty much everything that annoyed me about the story AND the writing style.

Heather Agreed!

message 3: by Tim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tim Hicks Yep, it's all over the place. Young and hip one page, serious and mature the next. Plausible development here, mighty leap there.

Shane Stephens I agree wholeheartedly with this review! I thought maybe it was just me. An enjoyable read, but the language, and Julia's character really brought me down. She was just plain unlikable.

Jason Kurtz Ludicrous is the word to use here, exactly. Grossman can be as zany and far out as he wants, as long as he is serious about his world. A kiddie slide to Hell? PouncySilverkitten? Even Bingle? I mean I felt like A) He used a plot generator to come up with bizarre/off the wall material, and B)He was making a fool of me while I was reading this book. “Look at all this idiocy I am making these readers put up with! Suckers!” I put it down twice and it took me a month to finish, I was so irritated. The major plot points in Quentin’s story were fine and well crafted, but ALL of the characters in Julia's story were flat and pointless. I almost would have preferred a companion novel telling Julia's story and going into the same depth and mastery that The Magicians had. The Hedgewitch would have been a better book. I mean, I recommended this series to colleagues! Grrrr. :(

Vanessa Totally agree... julia's story just kind of sucked. I wish he's left that part out.

Rasheeda Julia was so whiny! How was it Quentin's fault she didn't get into Brakebills?? She made me actually miss Janet for once!

Clint I wish I had read your review before wasting my time and money on this book.

Jaye I've decided to abandon hopes of finishing this book after reading this review and the comments. This installment just seems too thrown together and the writing and story seem bored with themselves. In spite of agreeing with a lot of the obvious criticisms of the first one, I did enjoy reading it so it's disappointing to not be able to get through this one.

Warwick I found this an interesting one (the review, I mean), because although I completely agree with you about the plotting, the narrative voice actually worked really well for me. Stuff like ‘noob’, ‘nomming’, and especially ‘which whatever’ were, I though, deployed rather nicely, and helped me stay relatively well engaged with the story even when he seemed to have lost the plot a bit.

Christina Doka I completely agree with you. The writing in this book gets lazy compared to the first, or it sounds like Grossman is trying way too hard to use some hip (though in some cases actually ridiculously outdated) slang. It makes what could otherwise have been a relatively decent book into an irritating muddle.

message 12: by Kris (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kris Henry Exactly, I couldn't even finish this one!

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