My rating: 4 of 5 stars
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.
Warnings: self-harm (including bloodletting for rituals), on-page rape, mention of suicide attempt and suicidal ideation, fatphobic comments, mention of animal sacrifice
Note: this is not a YA novel and isn’t recommended for younger teens
The Magician King picks up, in the linear timeline, at two years past the ending of The Magicians, and continues the story of Quentin as a Fillorian King, while also giving backstory on Julia through intermittent chapters, recounting her time as a hedge witch on Earth. There are many things that can be said about this series, but one thing we can all agree on – it doesn’t pull any punches. The Harry Potter references have mostly worn off and there’s a bit of a Voyage of the Dawn Treader situation going on, but the main thing this series tells us is that magic is ruthless and will take as much as it gives. Case in point: Quentin, bored with life in the idyllic Fillory, wants something more and stumbles upon a quest, realizing many times throughout it that romantic ideals of quest don’t always match the reality. Mirroring this quest is Julia’s quest – when she was rejected by Brakebills, she sought out whatever magic she could and it takes her more than four years to get to a point where she finally finds what she was looking for.
On the magic lore forefront I wouldn’t say it clears up much about the mechanics itself – when the characters are describing the studies, the techniques and everything math that comes along with it, I pretty much skimmed it because it was quite complicated and besides, that was barely the point. The point was that these geniuses who got access to magic wanted more of it, and who can blame them when they loved magic so much. But magic, as the proverbial saying goes, comes with a steep price, and this book goes more into the concept of divinity and what it means for Magicians, and for the multiverse at large. It was a fascinating journey, even if you remove the character arcs, in that we learn so much about this world Grossman has built up. And with the character arcs, and the respective pain they go through? It comes together in a frightfully dark comedic fantasy, and the ending is quite explosive in terms of both world-building and character arcs.
My one discontention about this book is that the character POV are very myopic – the secondary characters are barely fleshed out, and its only Quentin’s stray observations (and not their actions themselves) that give any sort of depth to them. Julia’s comes across as more cold but still you get a sense of the characters around her, but they fade away for us, much like they do for her. This kind of narration would have probably worked better in first person, maybe? Overall, though, this book manages to keep you hooked and reaching for more, much like the Magicians.
Is it diverse? Mental health rep (depression) in Julia, Autism rep in Quentin
Previous book in The Magicians trilogy