Friday, July 29, 2011

After the “Ever After”

The Magician King
by Lev Grossman

Can it possibly be only two years since I read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians? If you asked me about that novel, I would immediately tell you that I loved it. Apparently, that’s about all I could tell you. Having just read Grossman’s engaging follow-up, I regret not having reread, or at least brushed up on, the first novel. References to prior events were plentiful, and rather than jog my memory, they highlighted just how fallible it is. Hopefully yours is better, or you will take the steps I didn’t prior to reading the sequel. Oh, and it goes without saying that if you haven’t read the first novel, don’t start with this one.

Nonetheless, my inexact memory did not keep me from enjoying the latest adventures of Quentin Coldwater et al. Even I recalled that at the end of The Magicians Quentin, Julia, Elliott, and Janet had left our world to become the co-queens and kings of the magical (and not fictional after all) land of Fillory. The end. I thought that was the end. It was a good ending, and I didn’t expect any more. As we catch up with Quentin and co., they are living their “happy ever after.” It’s glorious. It’s perfect. It’s boring. To some degree, this has ever been the issue of life in a magical world.

Quentin is itching for a quest, but this is countered by the perfectly reasonable fear of screwing up a perfect life. When a safe-looking mini-quest comes along, Quentin goes for it—and screws up his perfect life. The mini-quest evolves into a major-quest with the highest of stakes. While this primary drama is unfolding, there is a second story being told in reflection. The Magicians recounted the education and coming of age of Quentin, Elliott, and Janet. Finally we learn what “hedgewitch” Julia was doing all of those years, and how she learned her craft. It would be an understatement to say that she took a different path. It’s a fascinating counterpoint. Along the way of these twin narratives, we meet many new characters and revisit old ones.

I’ve now read three of Mr. Grossman’s four novels, and I’ve enjoyed all of them. If I had to pick out the one thing that sets his work apart, the word that comes to mind is “unpredictability.” When you read as much as I do, a lot of storytelling becomes formulaic. This isn’t always a bad thing. Formula can expedite storytelling or give shape to a narrative. In any case, I think most avid readers begin to get a feel for where a story is likely to go. But not with Mr. Grossman. I never know. I don’t have a clue. I just know that he’s going to pull something different and unexpected out of his magician’s hat.

Additionally, it’s always a pleasure to read his prose. And he’s a champion at world-building. I adore the world he’s created in Fillory, and the dozens and dozens of pop culture references found throughout the text increase the fun and anchor that world to the reality of our own. It’s not merely Rowling and Lewis and Tolkien. It’s Die Hard and Star Trek and D & D. It’s Elmer Fudd, Dr. Suess, and GEB. It’s Disney, Dr. Who, and Discworld—and too many more to ever list.

I’ve rated this novel down one star only because I didn’t love it quite as much as its predecessor. I had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Grossman briefly at BEA. Expressing surprise at the sequel, I asked if there would be more books in the series. He told me that he thinks there will be a third, making it a trilogy. This second book comes to a shocking and unresolved conclusion. So, to Lev Grossman I say, “Damn straight there will be a third book!” It can’t end like this. And while clearly I have no idea where the tale will go, I will be along for the ride.

NOTE:  This novel will be next week's Humpday Giveaway!


  1. I loved Codex and have heard so many great things about The Magicians. I've not yet read it, but I do have it. Good thing the second is about to come out, that means I can read them close together (I am notorious for forgetting elements in the down time between series installments!).

  2. Oh, good. I'm glad to know it's not just me. *rolls eyes*

    But do read The Magicians. These books are awesome!