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Book Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

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The Magician King is Lev Grossman’s terrific follow-up to his 2009 hit fantasy book, The Magicians. If you enjoyed The Magicians, you’re sure to love The Magician King as well.

In The Magicians, Quentin Coldwater went from dorky kid to a master of magic and one of the kings of Fillory, the land depicted in his favorite fantasy books from childhood that most people take for fiction.

As The Magician King opens, two years have passed with Quentin and his friends Eliot, Janet, and Julia serving as kings and queens in Fillory. It turns out being king of a magical land is not terribly challenging, however, so Quentin is restless. He longs for an adventure, a quest even.

Not sure he’s ready for real trouble, Quentin decides to go on a tax-collecting mission instead. During the not-at-all dangerous trip, he hears about an intriguing golden key. Unable to resist temptation, he decides to find it instead of returning home. Quentin has found his quest, but it may be more than he bargained for.

Interspersed with chapters from Quentin’s point of view are chapters from Julia’s. Julia was Quentin’s friend and crush in high school. She took the entry test for the school of magic Brakebill’s College at the same time as Quentin, but unlike him, she failed to get in. In The Magician King, we get her full back story. After Quentin declined to help her learn magic, she had to go to great lengths to study in a seedy magic underworld. She eventually finds her “tribe,” an equally brilliant and committed group living in France. What Quentin faces is nothing compared to what Julia and her friends confront.

The Magician King is fanciful, smart, and fun. As in his first book, Grossman takes a hip, almost cynical approach to magic. Yes, magic is real, but it’s not for children, and things don’t always turn out for the good as Quentin expects. But it’s quite the ride on this quest, and it’s worth every minute.

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About Nancy Fontaine

Nancy Fontaine is a librarian and freelance writer living in New Hampshire with her husband, two cats, and every four years during presidential primary season, the national press.