Books · reviews

A darker Narnia: Lev Grossman’s The Magician King

The Magician King by Lev Grossman is the sequel to The Magicians. I don’t know if they’ve been marketing it as a sequel, but it is. Wholeheartedly. I can’t imagine reading it without having read the first.

The book centers around Quentin Coldwater, King of Fillory. Fillory is like Narnia, a magical land, ruled by 2 kings and 2 queens, full of magical beasts and quests, but it’s Narnia from an adult’s point of view. If The Magicians was The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, then The Magician King is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The book sees Quentin go on a quest… to collect some taxes, and finds himself on a very unexpected adventure on the high seas of Fillory, though the adventure is far more unexpected and twisted than that.

Quentin is consumed with this notion that he needs to be a hero to be happy. He obsesses over it for a lot of the book. You only really understand why if you’ve read the end of The Magicians. He’s trying to make up for a lot of what happened then. Had the book not been broken up by a parallel story starring Julia before she joined Quentin and the gang (his magical friends, Eliot and Janet), this hero-complex might have gotten extremely irritating.

However, Grossman got the balance just right. I couldn’t make it through one chapter about Julia without wondering what was happening on Quentin’s quest. And it was nearly impossible to make it through chapters about Quentin without flipping ahead to find out when the next chapter about Julia would be. It was really a perfect balance between the two, and each chapter about one made you understand about the other. 

I’d say I couldn’t put it down for the last 100 pages, but that’d be a lie. I couldn’t put the book down at all. I found it just as engrossing as the first book, though thank goodness it didn’t have Janet in it very much.

The book also had a few references here and there to other fantasy series (I think the line “Mischief managed” is written somewhere early on), and every now and then Grossman comes out with something like this…

“The man was obviously a soldier, but Quentin had never really thought about what that meant. He was a professional killer, efficient and businesslike. He had none of Bingle’s elegance. He was like a baker, except instead of making bread he made corpses, and he wanted to make Quentin into one.” The Magician King, page 343

That line made me laugh, and the book is full of little tidbits like that.

It was an overall satisfying read, that I’d recommend to anyone who loves fantasy novels, particularly the Narnia series. The Magicians and The Magician King seem like natural extensions of the world of the Pevensies.

Arbitrary rating: 7/10

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