Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

This is the sequel to The Magicians, a bestselling novel that came out a couple of years ago to much critical acclaim.
     In The Magician King we find the protagonists of the first novel in the land of Fillory, which they now rule. Eliot, Quentin, Julia and Janet are the kings and queens of that magical place, with the first holding the post of the High King. Since the day they settled there they spend their days in idle tranquility, without many, or any rather, ups and downs, and all over their realm there’s peace. However, as they are soon to find out, that peace is fragile, and if they do not act promptly, as a cranky seer advices them to, it will be shred to pieces, and catastrophe and death will ensue.
     The four of them, at the beginning, will not take that prophecy too seriously, because, well, who would really believe the bleak ramblings of a talking animal, but time will prove them wrong. Before that though, Quentin, as if suddenly awoken from a beautiful dream, will come to realize how boring his life has become, and so he’ll set on a seemingly not that important quest; he’ll sail to a far away island in order to receive the taxes ought to the kingdom. But in order to do that there are some other things he has to take care of first. To start with he has to find the perfect ship and then the best warrior there is to take along as his bodyguard. Later rather than sooner he gets ready and he sails away, in the company of some fearless sailors, the said bodyguard, a young cartographer and Julia, the most accomplished of the magician-rulers of the land.
     What though starts as a simple journey ends up as a big adventure. An adventure that will lead our heroes first to their destination and from there onwards to Chesterton, Massachusetts, Quentin’s birthplace, and after that to Venice, where they’ll meet Josh an old friend of his, and a strange girl called Poppy. The city of the filthy waters and the endless canals, where they’ll also meet a dragon, won’t be but a simple stop in their adventurous journey, as soon they’ll return for a brief spell to Fillory, before setting off again for the Neitherlands, which seems to have fallen victim to the wrath of the gods. Their quest will one day lead them even to the underworld, but until that happens they will go through a lot of troubles; troubles which will finally open their eyes to the truth and make them realize that the animal’s prophecy is about to come true. Unless… Unless they discover the seven golden keys that can save their world from the coming doom.
     As these things take place in the present time, the author gives us in a parallel narration the back-story of Julia, a now almost all-powerful witch, who in the past though failed to pass the exams and thus study in the same school her friends did. And a sad story it is. Her life until reaching a unique school in France and the utopia of Fillory has been full of hardship and pain, violence and disappointment. What we read makes us better comprehend her complex character and understand her cold manners; her unwillingness to smile.
     Grossman does not hesitate to talk about sex and rape in a language that at some points can be described as harsh, but nevertheless, necessary. These are just (or not just, ok) couple of facts of everyday life, he seems to think, and as such they deserve to be explored; especially the impact they can have on one’s psyche.
     He also doesn’t hesitate to pay respects to some other authors and books, or even legends, so here and there we read about the exploits of Merlin and Harry Potter, about The Chronicles of Narnia and even Shakespeare (one of the characters is called Failstaff).
     The Magician King is a great fantasy novel, which will surely offer much joy to the friends of the genre. If I can judge by its ending, I’d say that there’s more to come in these series, and I for one look forward to it.
     This one comes out in the U.S. next week.

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