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.
The Magician King does a bit of that. Well, it does if you can understand my mixed bag of examples and poor choices of illustration. In this particular book Quintin seems to thirst for a true adventure and, wow, boy does he get one. It certainly isn’t the one he probably thought of when he just had the itch to have one, mind you. I’m sure that this book isn’t quite what Grossman had in mind when he set out to continue this story, even.
You never know where adventures will take you.
In this particular instance (though I realize i haven’t told you much of the plot or much of anything else other than the general mood of this novel … which should be enough, I am sure) Lev Grossman’s The Magician King takes readers to a place both unfamiliar and welcome all at once. From the very first turn of the page you are comfortably in the grasp of a truly capable writer and story-teller and you get this sense — this wonderful sense — that you are going to be drawn into a story bigger than should be able to fit within its covers. And, you are … you are … You are also drawn to the sights and sounds of characters living their lives and making choices — some of them awful — which you cannot influence no matter how much you shout at the pages.
That I actually cared about these choices as well as the characters making them is the largest endorsement that I can ever hope to make of this book and of this writer. The Magician King by Lev Grossman is a wonderful book. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s perfectly enjoyable. Don’t believe me? Read it and prove me wrong…