I got The Magician King ages ago, and I wanted to review it before it was released so I would look all hip and with it, and too-cool-for-school, but the problem with that is 1) none of those things are remotely true, and 2) I needed to re-read so that the sequel would actually make sense to me.
So I did that.
And it was a good choice because 1) I had forgotten a lot of things about the original book and 2) I like to count.
In case you also don’t have a clear-cut remembrance of The Magicians, I will briefly recap it for you. Quentin is obsessed with a series of children’s books about a magical land named Fillory, that has a very striking resemblance to the Chronicles of Narnia. Quentin is also very good at card tricks. He gets recruited for a real school of magic called Brakebills. He becomes a pretty decent magician. He has a girlfriend named Alice. He and his chums discover that Fillory is quite real, visit it, destroy a great evil that’s been plaguing it, and Alice tragically dies as well. Quentin goes back to the real world and tries to pretend that magic doesn’t exist, but is rescued by his friends Janet, Eliot, and Julia, who take him back to Fillory, where they rule as kings and queens.
Caught up? Good.
So in The Magician King, as you might suspect, Quentin is a king, and also, a magician. But despite the fact that he has everything he’s ever wanted, and lives in his ideal dream kingdom, he’s not satisfied. He wants more. So after the clock-trees (a Fillory staple), start acting peculiar, he decides to set out on a quest. Looking for a fabled key, he and Julia sail to the outer edges of their kingdom (it is very similar to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, obviously intentionally so). Quentin and Julia find the key without too much difficulty, but it ends up leading them back to their own world. Quentin is devastated by this, and moans for quite a bit about how he should have been satisfied with what he had, how will they ever get back, etc. You might have noticed in the first book that Quentin is something of a whiner. It’s habitual.
Anyway, this was where the book really got interesting for me, because Julia has been such an enigma previously. She was barely mentioned in the first book—just enough that you knew more was lurking behind the scenes. I really enjoyed learning about her gritty search for magic. Unlike Quentin, she wasn’t accepted to Brakebills, but her memory of her test was never successfully modified. Her journey to become a magician took her through the seedy underbelly of their world, and even though she never becomes (to me at least) a likable character, she does become understandable. Quentin has always looked down on Julia a bit, and I enjoyed his comeuppance as she rescued him, and fixed the catastrophe that he caused.
We discover that the problems in Fillory, and in other magical places, the breakdown of their world really, can be blamed on Julia and her foolish, untrained magician friends. Their experiments triggered a reaction from the gods that they never expected, and now Quentin, Julia, and their assorted cohorts have to work quickly to save the world.
Quentin, with his typical romanticized view of being a king in a magical country, is thrilled to have the chance to become a hero. But what he discovers is that a hero is the one who has to make a sacrifice, not the one who gets to return home triumphant.
This was a satisfying follow-up to the original Magicians. Anyone that loves Harry Potter will love The Magicians, even though I occasionally miss the innocence and ‘good will prevail’ aspect of Harry. The ending of this sequel makes it very clear that there will be a follow up story. I only hope that Quentin is less whiny in it.