Book Review: The Magician King

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The Magician King The Magician King by Lev Grossman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Lev Grossman’s second novel in The Magicians trilogy. With The Magician King, I feel that Grossman progressed as an author, moving into a realm more of his own imagination and less reliant on the works of C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling.

I enjoyed Grossman’s first novel as well, but my chief complaint was that he borrowed too much from other series. In the Magician King, Brakebills is no longer a major setting so the similarities to Harry Potter are essentially gone. There were obviously still similarities with The Chronicles of Narnia (especially Voyage of the Dawn Treader), but then, Fillory is clearly based on Narnia so I think so commonalities will always exist.

I think the thing that I liked the most in this novel was the character development. Quentin has learned many lessons from his experiences in the first novel and, in the second, starts becoming a hero, instead of the immature and discontent near-genius that he started out as.

Quentin’s high school friend Julia, who makes an unexpected appearance at the end of the first novel, plays a much more important role in the second. We get a look at what happens to some of the students that flunk out of the Brakebills exam or who discover magic on their own. It really was interesting (and often gut wrenching) to see what she went through.

Beyond Julia, we didn’t meet too many new characters of importance, but, for some reason, I really liked Poppy. She wasn’t hugely important, but I thought she was a well-considered secondary character.

Much like the first novel, The Magician King was subject to Grossman’s sense of realism. As in real life, many things do not go as planned for Quentin and his friends. However, there is still a great deal of magical wonder. The combination of the too is sometimes odd, but definitely interesting.

Overall, I liked The Magician King. I thought Grossman’s imagination and storytelling abilities were much more pronounced in his second novel of the series, and the character development was well-done. If you liked the first novel, then you should certainly enjoy the second as well.

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Review: The Magicians

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The Magicians The Magicians by Lev Grossman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a difficult novel to rate. There were definitely things that I liked about it, but there were also some things that bothered me. I gave it a 3, but I think I would really prefer to give it a 3.5. I wanted to like this novel more, but I had a hard time getting past a few things.

#1 – A large part of the novel takes place at a school for magicians. Although I believe that Grossman wrote this largely as a response to Harry Potter and many things are very different, the novel is still very derivative. There are just so many similarities and I found myself comparing the two constantly. It was impossible not to.

I found it particularly bizarre when the characters referenced Harry Potter in the novel. I didn’t know what to make of that, but it just seemed weird.

#2 – All of the main characters have read this fantasy series about the magic realm of Fillory as children and it’s obviously meant to conjure up images of Narnia. But why isn’t it just Narnia? Why invent this separate world? It’s difficult to reconcile as a reader. Once again, I spent a lot of time comparing Fillory to Narnia, instead of being absorbed in that world.

In the world of the Magicians, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings exist, but apparently The Chronicles of Narnia do not? That just feels like a cop out.

#3 – As a Buffalo area resident, I can’t say I was thrilled when Grossman referred to the city as a “vision of the apocalypse.” But then I realized that Grossman could not have ever actually been to Buffalo when in the next paragraph he described the sun setting against Adirondacks in the distance. If Grossman had even been to Buffalo, he would know that’s just laughable.

So what did I like?

#1 – I liked the story. It was a little predictable at times, but it wasn’t your standard hero story and that was somewhat refreshing.

#2 – I liked the characters. Even though they were all thoroughly flawed, they were still somewhat likable. If nothing else, I could relate to them, or at least Quentin.

Ultimately, I did enjoy the novel. It grabbed me and kept me interested. However, if a novel is really good, you should get completely immersed in the world, not spend the whole time comparing it to other (greater) works.

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