By Lev Grossman
His Highness Quentin Coldwater is one of four rulers (2 kings, 2 queens) in the magical land of Fillory. In the company of old friends, Quentin oversees the goings-on of the realm. The only problem is there aren’t really any problems. Fillory is a harmonious land that seems devoid of enemies, war, or general threats of any kind. Until one day when they discover a single tree in the forest that seems disturbed by a nonexistent wind. Quentin sees this as the beginning of a quest, so when the rulers discover a reason to visit the outer edges of the kingdom (possible tax evasion), Quentin undertakes the task with great gusto and a support crew. When Quentin and Julia inadvertently find themselves back on Earth, it is Julia and her background in hedge magic, not Quentin’s formal magical training, that help them return to Fillory. As Quentin continues on his quest through Fillory, he ventures through more lands, realms, and worlds, and discovers that Fillory, the Neitherlands, and magic itself face a threat greater than any of them thought possible. With such high stakes it becomes ever more urgent to resolve the threat to magic, and Quentin is forced to learn that great adventures also come at great cost.
“The Magician King” by Lev Grossman is the second novel in the Magicians trilogy. While crafting yet another enchanting storyline for Quentin and Julia, Grossman also takes the opportunity to delve much deeper into character backstory and, bit by bit, shares Julia’s discovery of the shady, secret world of hedge magic. Throughout the story, Grossman returns to a fundamental question for both Quentin and Julia, which takes different forms due to their different circumstances: what is real? While Quentin wrestles with his diminishing ties to and interest in Earth, the realm of Fillory occupies a more and more central role in his life. Julia, meanwhile, strives to hide her real life of pursuing an unregulated magical education by covering it with a façade of day-to-day life that might please her parents. Is the real world the one that sparks a fire in the soul? Or is the real world the one recognized and accepted by other people? Where do they overlap? What happens next if the threat to magic actually destroys the world they inhabit? Grossman couches these questions in a fantastic land that perfectly captures childhood wishes and recasts them in marvelous exploits that an older audience will enjoy.
This time around, Grossman tells two stories in one novel, alternating chapters between Julia’s backstory and Quentin’s current quest. The quick change between plotlines keeps the story moving quickly, and always left me with questions, and therefore the need to keep reading. I loved learning more about Julia, learning more about the outer edges of magic, and also having the opportunity to grapple with the question of what is real. If you’ve read the first book, you certainly need to read the second book. The tone is similar, the stories are fresh, and world is ever-expanding.