Narnia for adults
this sequel to
explores what happens after the thrones of Fillory have been won.
BEFORE we go into the review proper, I must warn readers that this is a sequel of which I have not read the first, or original, book.
This is not a usual occurrence for me as, like most regular readers, I like to proceed naturally from book one to two to three.
But two factors made me pick up this book: one, I was quite desperate at that time for some (any!) new reading material and the synopsis appealed to me; and two, I knew Lev Grossman is a book critic for Time magazine, and I wanted to know how good he would be as an author, considering that he has a full-time job criticising (both positively and negatively, I’m sure) other writers.
Anyway, The Magician King is a follow-up to The Magicians, published in 2009.
The one thing that continually ran through my mind while reading this book was how it is mainly set in what is basically a grown-up version of Narnia, called Fillory.
There are the direct counterparts: Ember (the ram) for Aslan (the lion), the Wood Between the Worlds for the Neitherlands, and the magic rings for the magic buttons (used to travel between worlds). And also general characteristics like having four kings and queens who come from another world, talking animals, mythical crea- tures, and a similar concept of magic.
But while Narnia is acceptable children’s literature, Fillory is definitely darker and more real, making it more suitable for adult, or young adult, consumption.
The Magician King picks up a couple of years after the first book, where main protagonist Quentin Coldwater and his friends fought their battles and gained the thrones of Fillory.
Despite achieving his ultimate childhood fantasy, Quentin now finds himself bored, as being a king of Fillory is not as fulfilling as he thought it would be. Because of that, he grabs the excuse to go off on a sea voyage to the Outer Island – which, the friends discover has not been paying its taxes for a couple of years.
There, Quentin and fellow ruler Julia Quinn veer off in search of a mythical key on another island. But once they find it and try to use it, both of them land back in their own world, where they immediately try to find a way back to Fillory.
Those who have read the first book might be happy to know that along the way, the pair also meets up with some old friends. This basically forms the first two parts of the narrative, while the second half of the book revolves around a quest for seven keys that are needed to save Fillory.
An equally important part of the book is Julia’s back story after she was rejected by Brakebills – the magical college where Quentin and the others studied in the first book; her discovery that magic is real after the failure of the memory-erasing spell the college cast on her; her desperate determination to learn as much magic as possible anywhere she can find it, and the consequences of that determination.
The narrative switches between her story, which reflects a different, rougher and less regulated system of magic than the one taught by Brakebills, and the main storyline. Fans should pay attention to Julia’s story as, I suspect, it will provide the backdrop to the third (and probably final) story that Grossman is currently planning.
So, did I find it a good read? Suffice to say that I intend to pick up The Magician soon to flesh out all the quick summaries I got from this sequel about what happened before.
I enjoyed the writing, which is occasionally self-mocking and sarcastic, and is scattered with many pop culture references. The switch between the two narratives is also well done, and gives a good sense of what the characters are going through.
I don’t think those who read the first book will be disappointed, although I must say I think that the vibe of this book is somewhat different.
If The Magician is about discovering that magic and a world like Fillory is real, then this book, as mentioned by Grossman in an interview for Kepler’s Books’ blog, is inspired by the thought of what would have happened if the Pevensies had not investigated the lamppost at the end of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe.
So, if you have ever desperately wished that the back of your cupboard could lead some place else, or that magic really exists, I would definitely recommend this book (and probably the first one, too).