Friday, October 21, 2011

The Magician King by Lev Grossman


This fall has not been a plume of books spreading out before me. After gouging out my eyes with graphic novels this past summer, and encapsulated by a visual narrative so strong from "Fables" it has been so difficult getting back into "regular" books with just words and no pictures. Maybe this is the reason I hesitated reading graphic novels for so long, I knew they would ruin my patience reading traditional books. 

My most recent foray into fantasy, which has been more-or-less a theme for me lately (it must be because I am in the midst of working on a fairly fantastical series myself) was the audio version of Lev Grossman's latestest, "The Magician King." You can find my review of "The Magicians" here

We return to Fillory with Quinton, Janet, Eliot and Julia. They have ruled over as kings and queens for two years, but Quinton is beginning to itch for another adventure. Losing Alice and others at the end of the end of the first book just wasn't enough, was it? There's a clockwork tree in the forest that seems to sway in an invisible wind, some magical animal is talking, and it seems something is amiss. Everyone convinces Quinton that he's being crazy and that it would be stupid to leave the posh existence as a king to go looking for trouble. 

Ok, Quinton thinks, that's fine. Then, he gets the chance to rebuild an old ship the Muntjac and take it to sea to collect taxes from an island that is a part of Fillory. Julia goes along for the ride, but you realize that something just isn't quite right with Julia. She's not all there. The walking dead, she is. But she goes, and they travel and, if you read my review of the first book, the Narnian references continue to hit the reader. Grossman takes Narnia and makes it secular. If the first book was "The Magician's Nephew," "The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe," and "Prince Caspian," then "The Magician King" is "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" and "The Silver Chair." Especially since a lot of the book is spent out at see visiting all kinds of different islands, how can I not be reminded of "Dawn Treader"? 

Well, there's a gold key mentioned while Quinton, Julia and others visit the island to gather taxes, and they go to another island to get the gold key and it's so bizarre to find that one one cares. There's no danger, and I  was beginning to think, "Oh, nice, anti-climactic adventures away."

Well, they find the key, stick it into the air and, poof, Quinton and Julia are wisked back to Earth and their own time, still dressed in their Fillorian garb. Oops. 

As we learn about the struggles and the journey of Quinton and Julia, Grossman decides to open up the past and let you know how Julia learned her magic, since she was rejected from Brakebills. You learn about her hedge-witch ways, the sinister ways of how un-Brakebills students of magic learn, and every few chapters, we return to her journey, and it is dark, unrelenting and by the end of the book, as we continue down Julia's path (which you finally understand why she's "not all there," which is a huge reward for the reader), we learn how Julia became all-powerful. Her journey is not for the weak of heart, and Grossman does a good job of keeping you interested (for the most part) about her journey and how she sunk under magic's spell and couldn't wriggle herself free, since she knew it existed, took a test and didn't pass to enter a school like Brakebills. 

After while, we find out that magic is in danger, they are on a quest to save it, we learn about Julia and the outside world of magic and Grossman does a nice job of building up the mythology of it all. It continues to be the non-fantasy reader's fantasy novel, but it's steeped in a bit more of the stuff, compared to book number one. 

Quinton isn't as whiny as he was in the first book, but you're ready to smack Julia. You do not understand her during the "present" timeline, but she's this believable and breathing character during her flashbacks. I almost liked her flashbacks a little bit better. 

I will warn you that, and I don't think this is a spoiler, the second book just ends. I finished it and then was confused. What? There wasn't an ending, not one that said, "Thank you, there is your reward for reading this piece, but I will also allow you to question whether there will be a second book or not." 

Not this one. You just read the last sentence and said, "What the hell?" You look for extra magical pages, but they don't exit. I even Googled to see if I was alone in my frantic-ness. Lo and behold, I wasn't, but others were equally as confused -- but it was obvious that Grossman will be returning to Quinton, and maybe the others, in a third installation. 

I look forward to it because this is a great fantasy tale for those who are not used to them yet. But, I'm getting better.