“The Magician King” by Lev Grossman (Week 3 – Book a Week)


Sequels and fantasy go together like hot dogs and grilled onions.  The fantasy genre, which requires world-building and myths, has room for huge word counts and long volumes.

Still, I carry a small suspicion of sequels in any genre, they make too much sense from a marketing perspective to be motivated primarily from a creative perspective.  I know the world of Middle Earth had more to explore than the world of the Transformers in their recent movie incarnations, but it’s easy to see why editors and movie studios would be hungry to make sequels of both properties.  A successful story has a market built in.

I am happy to admit that I am part of that built-in market for The Magician King.  The Magicians, which precedes this book, is as good as anything I have read in the last year.


Judged on its own merits, The Magician King is an exciting, emotionally affecting story that I zoomed through.  The characters felt real and were given interesting things to do. I cared about everything they did.

Even with those merits, this is an excellent book that falls short of its predecessor. The Magician King is about finding the proper path, so it feels unfair to criticize it for wandering around in the doldrums, or suffering through uncertainty before powering toward a climax.  There is gold in the early adventures, the introduction of a swordsman protector (Biddle) for the hero (Quentin) is particularly engaging but, as the story moved along, I found myself wanting to jump forward into the meat of the adventure.

Another nitpick I have is that Grossman employs an A plot B plot technique — switching perspectives as the story unfolds — and what happened for me (as happens with almost all books using this device) is I found myself more interested in one plot than the other.  I was pushing through the part about the magician’s underground to get back to the present and the adventure happening in the current time-line.  In the end, both stories paid off and tied up beautifully and I probably wouldn’t be complaining about either story if I hadn’t had have to jump between the two.

So give it a B+/A-, 4 ½ out of five stars, or the silver medal.  I loved this book, maybe it is so up my alley that I graded it on a curve but, for me, it was just short of great.  Perhaps the most ringing endorsement I can offer is that If Grossman writes ten more of these books, I would happily read them all.





Week 4 – Machine Man

Week 5 – American Gods

Week 6 – Dune Messiah

“The Magicians” by Lev Grossman (Week 1 – Book a Week)

The fantasy genre has a small but committed group of superfans.  There are shelves and shelves of stories about magic and elves that no one but the deeply committed fan has ever heard of.  But, the canon has its crossover hits.  The Magicians takes many of those beloved works (particularly Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia) and builds his book on their sacred ground.  But it’s no rehash.

The idea of magic is inherently tied to power.  The idea of young people gifted with the ability to do more than mortal men is a fantasy in its purest sense.  Power is what makes magic so tempting as an idea in fiction.  Doing impossible feats by conjuring unknowable powers is a sexy possibility.  But what happens when there is no menace to turn those powers against?  With no Sauron, what would Gandalf do all day?

The idea of a group of listless recent college students and graduates with superpowers is a scary one.  The book has its share of adventure and derring do. But it’s the frank way that the book looks at sex and death that raises the stakes.  One scene where a female wizard slits the throat of an anthropomorphic ferret stands out as more honest than genre generally allows.   The consequences in this world are real and that makes the wonderland all the more wonderful.





Week 2 – The Mission Song By John LeCarré

Week 3 – Machine Man By Max Barry