Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Publisher's Summary:
Return to Fillory in the riveting sequel to The New York Times best-seller and literary phenomenon of 2009: The Magicians.

The Magicians was praised as a triumph by readers and critics of both mainstream and fantasy literature. Now Grossman takes us back to Fillory, where the Brakebills graduates have fled the sorrows of the mundane world, only to face terrifying new challenges.
Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent's house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.
The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an epic quest for the Harry Potter generation. It also introduces a powerful new voice, that of Julia, whose angry genius is thrilling. Once again Grossman proves that he is the modern heir to C.S. Lewis and at the cutting edge of literary fantasy.

The US cover of Lev Grossman's
The Magician King

It was the publisher's description of The Magician King that inspired my read (listen) of  The Magicians (by Lev Grossman). Start the series at book one. If you're hitting this review prior to reading The Magicians, go back and read that one first. I don't write spoilers, but even the publisher's summary contains details not obvious in The Magicians.

The Magician King is actually quite different from Lev Grossman's original work, while The Magicians was the discovery of magic, the path of Quinten's coming of age into a Magician (notable it's NOT 'wizard'). If The Magicians had some Harry Potter themes, The Magician King carried strong themes of Narnia and C.S. Lewis (minus the religious undertones and pseudo-lectures on morality).

The UK cover of Lev Grossman's
The Magician King.
I like the UK version better.

While The Magicians centered on Quinten's path, The Magician King introduces us to Julia. She sat the BreakBills exam but didn't make the cut. Her replaced memory (of the exam) was incomplete and she desperately wanted 'in' at the exclusive school. At the end of The Magicians we are re-introduced to Julia - then a magician, throughout The Magician King we are walked through Julia's story - including her attempt to summon the Gods of Magic.

As a result The Magician King is a very different novel. A bit more mature in the writing and somewhat in the content as well. There is less magic and less discovery - more travel and adventure. Quinten is still likable, Elliot as head king is a stronger presence in book two - Janet is barely heard from after the first two chapters.

In all The Magician King was a decent read - enjoyable even. The quality of Mr. Grossman's imagination was certainly still there, the implementation was as solid. I don't believe pages were wasted and the plot didn't stray from the storyline. There was a superb natural flow from Quinten's narration to Julia's and back again. I do feel like The Magician King wasn't not quite as "WOW" (for me) as The Magicians, perhaps a result of reading them back to back. Given a bit of separation of time my perception could have been different.

Narration of The Magician King was by Mark Bramhall (also narrator of Chris Bohjalian's Secrets of Eden and Skeletons at the Feast). Mr Bramhall's narration suited the novel completely - expertly (and unobtrusively) blending into the narrator's voice - smoothly and convincingly portraying various voices and accents.

The Magician King was written by Lev Grossman and published by Penguin Audio. The Magician King was released on August 9th, 2011 and has a runtime of 15 hours 48 minutes.

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