And the fit of rereads concludes with The Magician King by Lev Grossman. This is the 3rd book in the Magicians trilogy. And if you’re a TV watcher, you probably noticed a TV show based on the first book that popped up. As an aside for the show, I liked what I saw, but I don’t have cable, and I can’t watch online anymore (Syfy, I will watch the stupid ads if you will let me watch the show online; I’m not shelling out 50-60 bucks a month to the evil cable conglomerate when I already shell out a similar number to have internet access).
Where we last left our hero (stop reading this right now if you haven’t read The Magicians), Quentin was embarking on a trip to become a king of Fillory after his girlfriend was killed on a previous adventure to Fillory. Fillory is basically Narnia, but with less Christian overtones and more homicidal monsters. And all the Magicians went to magic school (except for one who went to school of hard knocks). If you’ve heard of “Harry Potter for adults,” this is that book series, except that description sucks. It’s not more or less than that. It’s something else entirely. Imagine Harry has low self-esteem and friends who remarkably selfish. Maybe Brakebills is basically all Slytherins.
I’m getting off topic.
First and foremost, I liked the book and series enough that I’m rereading it. Second, I don’t like this book as much as the first and third. This follows a general trend for me of being dissatisfied (relatively) with second books. It’s fine, but this book goes about setting up the third book. As such, it’s story isn’t really as important in and of itself as its role to bridge the first book to the end of the series, which is pretty much exactly the same thing I said in my last review.
This book breaks the structure of the previous book. Where the first book covers about 7 or so years, as best as I can tell (they really jump forward really fast), this book covers what is basically a few weeks for Quentin (though a few years for catching us up on Julia’s story). The next change was stated in the last sentence partially: We follow two stories in book 2, while we only followed Quentin on book 1. These changes don’t harm the story, though they make for a different feel. I generally prefer series to keep the same type of structure, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen it happen (The Inheritance Cycle is another time where the first book featured a different mode of storytelling).
What I liked about this book are generally the things I liked about the last book: It doesn’t pull punches. It makes magic to be a real thing, and the only person who doesn’t always seem to get the gravity of it is our protagonist who idealizes magic constantly, even when he tries not to. And of course, our protagonist is as much of an anti-hero as he is a hero. Quentin’s not a bad guy, but he’s not really the type of person you want to root for. He’s constantly doing dickish things for no apparent reason (the TV show, in the four episodes I saw, seemed to make him more hapless and therefore more likable, so it’ll be interesting to see how the show turns out because of that). He also insists on trying to be the hero when maybe he should let others lead.
Now to what I didn’t like: Things were too arbitrary and convenient. I can’t remember who gets the attribution, but there’s a guideline in fantasy writing that the more intricate the rules of magic are explained in the series, the more you can use it. Grossman does a fantastic job of explaining the rules, but then he does random things as deus ex machina. The first book didn’t seem to fall in this trap as much, but book 2 was basically good and bad things happening without a good explanation. They just happened, and hey, we’re all here now. I may change my mind when I get to it, but I feel like book 3 was more organic as well. I don’t want to give the plot away, but there were several times in book 2 where I was just confused as to why something happened without being fully explained as to why it made sense (not to be confused with the George Lucas prequels strategy of explaining everything to death). There’s a fine line that has to be met. I need to enough to believe that whatever’s going on actually happened. The end of the book was basically a few pages of “I have no idea why that happened or how it happened so quickly.”
That said, still an enjoyable book in an enjoyable series. Enjoyable might not be the best word. You won’t walk away from this thinking the hero won. You’ll think you need a drink instead.
But on to the next one.