Lev Grossman: The Magician King (review)

Grossman-MagicianKingUS_thumb[10]Lev Grossman’s novel The Magicians made quite a stir back in 2009 when it was first published with its mix of Harry Potter and Narnia and the way it turned these YA stories into some serious adult fiction. I read it in 2009 and liked it a lot. I’ve had the second book in the series on my shelves for a couple of years and I picked it as one of the books to get me back into reading again.

And that was a smart choice. It was one of the books I read on this year’s summer holiday. I read it over three days. And enjoyed it a lot.

We’re back with Quentin and the other kings and queens of Fillory. Quentin is bored with his job as king of smooth-running Fillory and he is desperate for any kind of adventure. So when it is discovered that the Outer Island doesn’t pay tax to the kingdom, he decides to go on a quest. He readies a ship so it’s just like in the Fillory books, he grew up with, and off he goes. Turns out that what he’s really questing for, is a set of keys – and that Fillory’s future is heavily depending on him getting the keys. Only trouble is, that if you use the keys, you risk ending up somewhere you didn’t exactly plan to go.

What we also get in this story, is the story of Julia. One of my comments to the first novel was, that I felt that Julia flickered in and out of it and that her character wasn’t presented in  a satisfying way because of this. This issue is fixed in this novel. We get Julia’s backstory in probably even more gory details that we knew we wanted! Julia wasn’t accepted to the magical school of Brakebills so she had to find her own way to magical learning. A way that wasn’t exactly paved with flowers.

Just like a lot of fantasy novels play with the tropes of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and like J.K. Rowling played with the tropes of British boarding schools, Grossman builds on what was started by C.S. Lewis in the Narnia novels with a nice dose of Harry Potter added to it.  But this in itself isn’t interesting. What is interesting, is Grossman’s way of taking this inspiration and not only making it completely his own but also making it more sinister – and definitely for adults only. And I like that. I like that even though this on the surface is a nice world from a children’s stories, you really can’t trust that we get any happy ending.

What I also like about these novels is, that Grossman is a guy only a bit older than me. This means that he has grown up with a lot of the same culture as me and this means that we have references to modern pop culture like Die Hard and a ‘We were on a break’-moment. As well as a shoot-out to Nicolas Tesla – all of which I really enjoyed.

More than anything this is a book about finding a sense of meaning and purpose for your life. From Julia who wants to learn magic and has to fight for what she knows will give her life meaning to Quentin who has everything he seemingly ever wanted but still isn’t satisfied and goes looking for adventure at the far end of the world.

I really enjoyed going with him – and Julia’s character is fascinating and her storyline is so interesting. This book ended with a bang – it was a very brave ending and I can’t wait to move on to the next novel.

First line: Quentin rode a gray horse with white socks named Dauntless.

  • Title: The Magician King
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher: Plume
  • Year: 2011
  • Pages: 541 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

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