The Magician King by Lev Grossman
Read by Mark Bramhall
Release Date: August 9, 2011
Quick Thoughts: With its grand fantasy adventure told in tandem with a tale of devastating realism The Magician King may possibly be the best fantasy novel of a year full of great contenders.
I almost feel bad for the hard core fans of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, since they are in the process of a grueling wait of over a year for sequel to Grossman’s first Fillory novel. I have done that wait before, the 7 year stretches between King’s Dark Tower releases, and the multiyear waits between each release of Donaldson’s Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Heck George RR Martin fans have now officially survived their long wait, as did the legion of Patrick Rothfuss fans earlier this year. So, yes, we all know the feeling, the anticipation, the knowing it will be great but fearing it will suck. Yet, for me, the wait was roughly about two weeks. I only recently discovered the brilliant adult fantasy novel The Magicians, and fell in love with its world. So, I will try to do a service for lovers of Fillory and it’s often caustic, and frustrating human visitors by letting them know that there wait will be rewarded. The Magician King has all the beauty and realism of The Magician, in fact, I personally believe it is an even more engaging novel than its prequel. Of course, my love for this novel isn’t going to make August 9th come any faster.
In the Magician King, Quentin, along with Julia, Janet and Elliot are now Kings and Queens of Fillory. As a lover of the Fillory novels this is everything that Quentin had dreamed of as a child. So, of course he wants more. It’s one thing to achieve Royalty status of a magical land, but Quentin wants adventure, a chance to be a hero. So, when the Kingdom needs to collect back taxes from Utter Island, Quentin think it’s his chance to break out of his kingly rut and experience a true adventure. Of course, as fans of The Magician know all to well, when Quentin gets what he wants most, the unexpected always happens and not always in Quentins‘s favor. Thus begin The Magician King, a beautiful and brilliant fantasy adventure reminiscent of CS Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader and other seafaring fantasy adventures. So, yes, Quentin’s routine mission turns into a true adventure right out of the storybooks, with possibly the whole universe on the line, and if this was the full tale of The Magician King I would be happy and content with a fun fantasy that embraces all the tropes I enjoyed as a child. Yet, this isn’t the whole novel. What escalates this from a delightful adult fantasy to something so much more is the story of Julia. As we follow our heroes on their Fillorian quest, we flashback to Julia’s story from the moment she failed the Brakebill’s test. Julia’s tale is dark and brutal. Unlike the isolated vanilla magical training of the Brakebills lot, Julia must travel through the dirt and scum of the magical underground. While the school years of the Magicians were analogous to an adult Harry Potter, Julia’s training was more reminiscent of Gaimen’s American Gods. In The Magician’s King Grossman surpasses his previous novel by creating competing vision of worlds, showing both the brutal and the beautiful , while still managing to remind you why the best fantasy tales never really leave you.
In The Magicians, it took me a while to fully get into Mark Bramhall’s reading, yet in The Magician King the story and narration instantly engaged me. In fact, it’s tough to truly evaluate Bramhall’s reading because I became so immersed in the tale, so totally engulfed that I lost myself in the reading. If anything Bramhall came off as a gruff grandfather reading us to bed at night, when we are in the momentary stage between consciousness and our dreams. What’s truly hard to evaluate is if this was because of the story, Bramhall’s talent as a narrator, or, more likely, a combination of both. With its grand fantasy adventure told in tandem with a tale of devastating realism The Magician King may possibly be the best fantasy novel of a year full of great contenders. More simply, it is one of those few novels that I wish I could scrub from my brain, just so I could experience it again fresh.