Friday, December 09, 2011

Review: The Magician King

Despite a wonderful concept, I reviewed The Magicians last year with faint praise. I was surprised when it won the John W. Campbell award... until I read the competition, most of which was barely readable and not really worth mentioning.

I sampled The Magician King on the Kindle, and the writing was good enough that I decided to place a hold at the library for the book. I'm glad I did.

First of all, the worst part of The Magicians was the teenage whining and angst. The Magician King does away with that. While Quentin (one of the two protagonists) is still more than a little clueless and frequently seems to be just someone dragged from one event to another without any reflection, the plot this time is far more interesting and focuses on the nature of magic itself, and why it exists in this milieu. And the second protagonist is Julia, whom we didn't much of in the first book except at the end. She's not clueless or whiny, and her story runs through the second strand of narrative in the novel.

Julia's a much more interesting character than Quentin, and we get to see the darker side of magic through her. There's more than a few streaks of meta-thinking in the novel, especially as the characters start thinking about fantasy quests in the abstract: "We don't need a map. Quests are all about attitude."

Finally, when the big reveal happens and we see what the point of all this questing is, we're also done with the quest. Unfortunately, at this point, Grossman decides that he's done with being innovative, and delivers us a standard fantasy, complete with a fantastical ending which ends up being cliched. This does not detract from the journey, which is a lot of fun.

Nevertheless, the book is overall an enjoyable read (more so than his previous novel), and while it's not on the scale of Stephen Donaldson's work, as a short easy read I would recommend it as an airplane novel or brain candy.
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