The Magician King by Lev Grossman

It took me several tries to get interested in Lev Grossman’s novel, The Magicians: A Novel. I had avoided reading anything about the novel—other than it was highly recommended and had won an award. I had no idea what to expect aside from, mostly likely, some magic happening. The opening of some kids walking down the sidewalk in Brooklyn just didn’t catch me the first or even the second time I started. I finally gave it chance and was so glad that I did. By the time I got to the Beast entering the classroom, I was mesmerized. By the end of the book, I was floored. It wasn’t really a parody of fantasy novels (too much respect shown for the genre) but it also was completely irreverent take all the same.

It was simply a pitch-perfect, modern take on the classic fantasy stories I grew up with (namely, the Chronicles of Narnia). And I couldn’t wait to read more about the world(s) Grossman wrote about.

Well, within a month or so of my listening to The Magicians on audiobook, I read about the planned sequel; so good news for me. I got that novel the day after the hardback hit bookshelves and finished it just last night.

Audiobooks vs. Print

I read the print version this time, as I knew I wouldn’t have the patience for an audiobook this time around. This may seem like an odd idea if you’re not familiar with audiobooks (or if you read a bit slower than they tend to be read at), but I’m a relatively quick reader. Given the speedy pace of the first novel, I figured (correctly) that I could devour this novel in about a week.

Another odd thing I’ve discovered about listening to a book on audio and then reading sequels (prequels, etc., too) in print is that you tend to keep those character’s voices in your head. Both The Magicians and The Magician King are read by Mark Bramhall whose voice and inflections capture the snarky attitudes of the characters perfectly. I seriously cannot praise his narration of the first book enough. And though his pace is considerably faster than the last audiobook I finished, I knew I just wouldn’t have the patience for it this time.

Epic Fantasy

I recently watched portions of a Comicon panel on the subject of Epic Fantasy with some of my favorites: George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, Kevin J. Anderson, and others. As they don’t seem to have a firm concept of what Epic Fantasy is, other than possibly the books are large, I’m going to co-opt the term to describe The Magician King. Worlds are saved, heroes take long journeys, dragons are dealt with, buckles are swashed (or whatever), and probably countless other fantasy tropes are disposed of. Of course, Grossman handles these all with his lateral approach that made The Magicians so wonderful.

Coming in at exactly 400 pages (in hardback, anyway), the scale of the book is closer to its Narnia lineage (and possibly, The Hobbit) than The Lord of the Rings, and that’s fine. Grossman often relies on pop culture (some more obscure than others) to shortcut long descriptions of this or that medieval-ish fantasy thing. A dragon? Well, it looks like a D&D dragon; what more is there to say about that? The characters are the reason to read this story, anyway (though Grossman does a fine job at making sword fights and other Swords & Sorcery bits plenty fun).

I was so glad that this novel focused on the story of Julia. The Magicians makes it clear that she goes through a lot during the time Quentin is at Brakebills, but explains essentially nothing of it. It makes for a compelling story and here and follows in the Narnian tradition of subsequent novels telling stories about less-prominent or tangential characters in the preceding tale.

I tweeted last night that I couldn’t wait to read more stories in this universe, but to be honest I’m okay if this is it. I have no doubt that more tales could be made. I mean, it isn’t if Grossman hasn’t created an entire universe in which to expand this. However, if it means watering down the stories or simply retelling what amounts to the same adventures, I’ll gladly pass. I will, at least, be reading whatever he writes next, though.