‘The Magician King’ by Lev Grossman
After my recent re-read of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, it was finally time to round out the trilogy and finish the saga. To that I end, I got The Magician King and The Magician’s Land out of the library.
The Magician King has been elsewhere described as merely the inevitable “middle book” of a trilogy. The suggestion being that the simple fact of its middleness necessitates a book comprised of subpar filler. While I would ordinarily agree that the second part of a trilogy is often less satisfying than other parts (see also: The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), I find serious issue with classifying The Magician King in that way. While I won’t say I loved it like I did The Magicians, King is so much more than a filler book bridging the gap between the beginning and the end of a saga.
Standing on its own, King is a legitimately entertaining read with meaty plot and character developments. It’s a much bigger book than The Magicians, story-wise, and, while it certainly seems to be building towards something to come, it also features a plot so cosmically large than it could very well be confused for the final book in a long-running series. The end leaves the door open to possible future stories, but it is also the culmination of its own epic arc.
That said, I still did not love King like the previous book. Mostly, I think, my lack of adoration comes from the very center of the trilogy: Quentin Coldwater, our “hero.” Quentin is some distillation of everything I find irritating about Harry Potter as a character combined with everything I find uninteresting about twentysomething male protagonists in general. It was one thing to be so “oh my god, the drama, my life, the entitlement, the angst, OMG!” in the first book when Quentin was a teenager, but such an attitude wears tremendously thin in the second book when Quentin is ostensibly an adult human and ruler of an entire magical land. Yes, he has suffered, but probably less than almost every other character and most things are still handed to him fairly tidily.
Quentin’s privilege is hammered home by the new focus on Julia, a secondary character (at best) in The Magicians who returns with new powers and a mysterious past in King. She has had to fight, tooth and nail, for everything that Quentin has been given and her toughness is a welcome respite from the Quentin Parade of Angst. Thank Ember for the half of King spent revealing Julia’s last few years in flashback. These flashbacks prove far more interesting than almost anything Quentin is whining about/doing in his half of the narrative and, towards the end, usefully explain a lot of what the other characters are trying to accomplish.
In the end, King was certainly an entertaining read and one I mostly enjoyed (Quentin notwithstanding). It was a bit more predictable than the first book (I, who usually never see anything coming, guessed correctly what was going to happen on multiple occasions), but it was still so much more than a mere middle book. King felt a lot less existential than The Magicians, which made it rather more fun to enjoy as a regular old fantastical questing tale.
And the best, most exciting possibility it opened up, for me, was the idea that Alice could possibly return. I love Alice (and how much Quentin loves Alice is one of his best qualities by far) and would be thrilled to see her somehow return in The Magician’s Land.
So I’m looking forward to the next book, although the end of King makes me suspect I’m in for a lot more of Quentin self-pity before (god, I hope) he gets over himself. But we’ll see! Onwards! And, no doubt, back to Fillory!