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.