The Magician King by Lev Grossman is as good as I wanted the first book in this series to be.
The big flaw with The Magicians was that toying with the genre sometimes overshadowed telling the story. That’s not the case with this second book. The parameters of Mr. Grossman’s magical world are already defined and the genre gimmicks are already established. There’s no need to rehash them and so he doesn’t.
Which means that The Magician King can focus on simply telling a good story. The storytelling in this novel is more cohesive and coherent than its predecessor, and as a result it’s much more powerful and effective.
The Magician King has the substance that the premise of the first book promised but mostly failed to deliver.
The trope that Mr. Grossman takes on with The Magician King is the traditional hero’s story. But he doesn’t toy with it the way he toyed with magical fantasy in the first book. Rather, what he offers us here in a sincere exploration of hero stories—not as a trope but to find out what it actually means to be a hero. The non-glamorous and often painful reality of it. Not just the accomplishment but the costs of being a hero.
This is where Mr. Grossman’s excellent character work finally pays off. The characters in The Magician King aren’t necessarily good people, but the heart of this story is the genuine friendship and love they all feel for each other. Their connections run deep and we care about them because of it.
That’s the biggest difference between this book and the first one: in The Magicians, I cared more about the world than about the characters. In The Magician King, the world is no less compelling but I care about the characters more. Which is as it should be.
The Magician King also takes us deeper into the mechanics of the magical world and reveals even larger vistas than the first book. It takes us through the culture of magic that exists outside of officially sanctioned schools like Brakebills. It shows us—literally—what lies beneath the Neitherlands. In the end, it leaves Quentin in a position that leaves me at a loss to imagine what might happen next.
I can’t wait to find out.