Riding high on the wave of pain killers after a dental visit of Armageddon proportions is a great time to write reviews, right? It is if you're wanting to discuss something you've read lately that can only be described as a most pleasurable experience. Somewhere on the cosmic scales I think that qualifies as a counter-balance to the un-pleasurable things that happened inside of my mouth last Thursday. And so, let's talk about Lev Grossman's The Magician King.
As a sequel to The Magicians Lev Grossman's The Magician King manages to do something very rare in today's literary scene which is ALL about the fantasy "series," in that it doesn't simply exist to try and be the latest "Harry Potter" phenomenon on the scene and expand everyone's pocketbooks before attention fades and people are off to the next big "series" of the moment. Instead, Grossman appears to have written this book simply because he had a story to tell that was longer than what The Magicians could hold on its own. Shocking, I know!
Once again Quintin Coldwater and his "friends" are the center of this story as what we would traditionally think of as the "good" guys. That's about as much of the usual formula you're going to get in the story, however, as Grossman seems to take glee in showing us, that much as in the real world, the idea of this person being a "good guy" or "hero" doesn't hold much water. All of us are capable of great and good things as well as terrible and selfish things.
Fantasy with a nice healthy sense of realism is a nice change of pace. Oh sure, there are always fantasy books where the hero roams the gritty "real" streets of a large metropolitan city or deals with "real" gangsters or policemen, but I'm not necessarily talking about that kind of reality. I mean reality in that people will not always make an altruistic choice when faced with their needing to make a particular choice that has ramifications on what happens afterwards. Heck, even if they do always make an altruistic choice, such things don't always work and people still suffer because someone did what they thought was the "right" thing to do.
I like that. I like a bit of grit in my fiction. I like my shining knights to have some grime and wear and tear in their armor. Polish it up and do your best to represent what is good and grand about fantasy, sure, but show me that sometimes the lance tastes a bit of blood and doesn't just bounce off of evil's armor as you shame it by knocking it to the ground and winning the match.