The Magician King by Lev Grossman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“Well, good. don’t go digging too deep, Quentin. Don’t stir. Shit. Up.” Fogg enunciated the obscenity crisply. “Right now you have the air of somebody who thinks he knows better. Humility is a useful quality in a magician, Quentin. Magic knows better, not you. Do you remember what I told you the night before you graduated? Magic isn’t ours. I don’t know whose it is, but we’ve got it on loan, on loan at best.”
Dean Fogg, with that quote, sums up this book. The previous book was a deconstruction / reconstruction of the tropes that govern the Chronicles of Narnia and other similar stories. This book is a deconstruction / reconstruction of The Hero’s Journey. Although, it’s actually two heroes’ journeys. This book reveals how Julia became a hedge witch and it involves Quentin on a journey that revolves around a macguffin, but is really about the hero’s personal growth (like nearly all hero journey tales). The personal growth is key because I hated Quentin and the other main characters of The Magicians. They were all the worst embodiments of entitled youths. They were not sympathetic. In fact, Julia’s entire journey in this book is caused by Quentin’s cowardice in the previous book. If he’d manned up and tried to get Fogg or some other faculty member to maybe make Julia an exception – since something about her mind made the forgetfulness spell not take – it would have been much better for the poor girl (view spoiler)[and the climax of this book could have been avoided (hide spoiler)]. If there’s any good that came of it – it’s that this journey forced Quentin to grow as a person. Near the end of the book he’s no longer using people for sex and he even learns to properly make a hero’s sacrifice. (Which was not a surprise if you listened to Ember mid-way through the book) And speaking of side characters, both Eliot and Penny (who was a real prig in the first book), show lots of growth as well.
Speaking of Julia, there’s one thing that made me very uncomfortable in this story. That Julia had to sleep around a bit as part of her hitting rock bottom was not too uncomfortable. I understand the role it has in the plot of showing different things depending on where she was in her mental emotional state. Sometimes she wields it like a boss – knowing that our culture seems to venerate access to a woman. Sometimes it’s a desperation move – the only way she can get what she needs at the moment. But what made me incredibly uncomfortable is when a certain scene goes awry and she ends up being raped – especially when she thought she was sacrificing her life. It ends up imbuing her with her Neo in The Matrix 2/3 levels of power and eventual ascension, but it just feels so unnecessary and especially piled on after all she had before. Especially with how women are always raped and men are rarely raped in books and comics. I have lots of female friends (in the social media sense) on Goodreads and I’d like to know how they felt about it (men can comment as well, but obviously, it’s not the same).
That scene aside, the book was a great continuation of what came before it and it really does present a good story that grows the characters and the world presented in the first book.