2021 Reading Challenge

2021 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 3 books toward her goal of 245 books.
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Book Review: The Magician King

Today’s book review is a trip to sequel land. The Magician King is the sequel to 2009’s The Magicians. My review copy was most generously provided by the good people at Viking/Penguin.

WARNING: there is some spoiler text here if you are not familiar with the series. It is, after all, difficult to talk about a sequel without referencing the original story. And in do doing, some of the original story’s plot points and twists will be at least somewhat revealed. So consider yourself warned.

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, let me give you a quick synopsis: magic is real and there is a school (Brakebills) for magicians that only select teenagers manage to make their way into – although it is possible to learn about magic without attending Brakebills, it is a difficult road to travel. There is series of fictional books-within-the-books that take place in an alterna-world called Fillory (which world – and attendant mythology – bears more than passing resemblance to Narnia). Fillory is also real. The books center around Quentin – one of those who managed to find his way to Brakebills (and graduate with rather high honors) and Fillory -and if there is a more stereotypical disaffected anti-hero type in fiction, I don’t know where to find him… This is not intended as a bad thing, mind you, just as a means of making you understand who the main character is. Quentin is supported by a team of mostly similar-minded magicians – they are all too smart for their own good and fully aware of that fact. As a result, they seem to fall prey to the classic ennui of those “suffering” from superiority complexes.

Now that you know who you are dealing with, and have a very bare-bones sense of their world, let’s turn to The Magician King. I read The Magicians when it came out in 2009. I didn’t remember all of the details of the book – this is also not intended as a bad thing. This happens to me a lot – I read voraciously and quickly because I get absorbed into stories. As a result, I often don’t remember many of the details of books, even those I love, after I have read them. I always remember the gist, and if there is a character/setting/plot point that is particularly appealing, I will remember that. I also usually remember how the book left me feeling – glad I read it, eager to read more about the story/characters/setting, or not. So the fact that I didn’t remember all of the details did not signify anything to me. I did remember that I found the premise interesting though, and because of that I made sure to re-read The Magicians in time for the sequel to arrive.

I must confess, I did not love that re-read – not all of it, anyway. I did love the beginning – Quentin’s adventures into the world of magic, his entry into Brakebills and his magical education, were excellent. Grossman’s approach to magic and the magical world is well conceived and presented, his characters have very strong personalities (even those who are timid or meek, and the fact that he can accomplish that is, to me, testament to his skill as a writer), and his universe is just enough off of reality to let the reader envision themselves in it – especially the reader who, like me, always dreamed that he/she was special and meant for something more in this world… But then Quentin and his friends graduated. And the self-indulgent and self-pitying and long-suffering, woe-is-me tidbits of their lives – and especially of Quentin’s aggrieved magical boy personality – got to me. The subsequent Fillorian adventure brought me back to the story, but only for a short time – then Quentin became too Quentin again and I got annoyed.

Still, I looked forward to The Magician King for the moments of brilliance that I so enjoyed in the first book.

And they are there. Once again, the book contains sections of story that are original and intriguing and absorbing – and I loved those sections. But once again, Quentin and his friends got to me. I don’t necessarily blame an author when his characters annoy me – often, that is the point. I get it, I really do. But that doesn’t mean I enjoy reading it. This was a prime example. There were again some truly innovative and excruciatingly well-written passages – there were also, again, some descriptions that felt over-done and cliched and some travels/travails that felt all too predictable for anyone who has ever read about alterna-worlds like Narnia or about “regular” people finding themselves in magical worlds.

I kind of think this may be the point. It took me until the end of the book to realize it, though.

I think it is entirely possible that Grossman is, in part, writing an indictment (maybe assessment is a better word – indictment may sound too confrontational; then again, maybe that is again part of the point) of the whole “I’m meant for more, and once I realize my uniqueness the world will see!” persona and of the “Once I make my way into the “better” world of magic, life will be better!” mentality so often attendant to it. If that is the case, then wow – he got it in one. (Well, technically two, but you know what I mean. teehee)

If he isn’t, well, it was still an enjoyable read don’t get me wrong, but it had moments during which I wanted to set it down in favor of something light-hearted and fun and just not so weighing-me-down-ish. I can only read about angst for so long before I get worn out. But indictments of people like me, who fantasize about alterna-worlds, well, those I can read all day. 😉

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2 comments to Book Review: The Magician King

  • Haha…I can so relate to the not-remembering-though-I-Loved-the-book feeling! It is difficult to recall of the intricate details but you remember the warm feeling of a good book. Great review. I have not read this series. But magic excites me. So, hopefully i pick it up someday.

  • Thanks Shilpa – I felt a bit like an idiot writing that I couldn’t remember, and you made me feel much better about that! 🙂

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