The Magician’s Land, by Lev Grossman

The Magician's LandI was a little hesitant about reading this book, because although I liked the second book I was pretty iffy on the first one, and trilogies are so hard to predict. But still, as soon as I saw it show up on my galley list, I requested the heck out of it, so clearly I had high hopes.

The book starts off with my faaavorite character, Quentin, having seemingly recovered from the events that made me so happy at the end of the last book but ready to get into some more trouble. He’s shadily hanging out at a shady bookstore (the best kind), and we soon learn that he and a handful of other magician-types are there to try for a place on an Ocean’s Eleven-style crew, though it is unclear at first exactly what ability everyone has that makes them suitable for stealing the MacGuffin. The crew works together to prepare for the heist, but of course the heist happens earlier than planned and things go very very wrong. In the meantime, we find out what happened to Quentin between the last book and this new job and also find out some fascinating facts about Quentin’s new pal, Plum.

Quentin’s story trades off with the story of Fillory, where all of our other kings and queens are still reigning. Fillory’s story this go-round starts off with a strange and quickly won war and continues with the discovery that Fillory is dying and only an Epic Quest has any chance of saving it. Eventually the two storylines combine and Quentin helps save Fillory and then a thing happens that I just don’t even want to talk about because srsly.

Overall it was a decent book. I liked it a little better than I liked The Magicians, though both of them suffer from a surfeit of storylines. The heist storyline is actually pretty fun, although its resolution is a bit odd, Plum’s adventure through Brakebills is awesome and terrifying, and Janet’s stories from her solo queen days are things I would have liked to see actually happening rather than retold but I’ll take them. But so many of the other storylines were just ennnhh and the one with Alice made me both baffled and a bit angry.

Luckily Grossman is the kind of writer, like Terry Pratchett or Jasper Fforde, where half the fun is seeing what kind of quotable quotes he’ll come up with next. He’s always ready with a great line about fantasy stories or libraries or being a twenty-something, and there were plenty of lovely and amusing sentences throughout to help take my mind off the irritating parts of the plot. I’ll definitely be watching for more from Grossman in the future; maybe if he can get away from this particular story and character I’ll enjoy his work more.

Recommendation: For those who have read the rest of the series and feel compelled by this book’s existence to pick it up. But definitely don’t start here!

Rating: 7/10

The Magician King, by Lev Grossman

The Magician KingBack in the day (like, two years ago) I read this book called The Magicians, which is often shorthanded as “grown-up Harry Potter” and is more or less that. I thought it was okay at the time and I remember barely anything about it even now, so I didn’t have high hopes for its sequel. But then people started saying that the sequel was all of the good parts of the first book and few of the bad and I was like, “Well, if those people and I are in agreement about the good parts…”

And, it seems, we were! If I recall correctly a lot of my beef with the first book was that it was a bit disjointed in terms of story — there were some good story lines but there were too many of them and they happened around too many boring story lines and I felt like the book could have ended several times before it did. In this case, there are still a bunch of story lines but they are all more or less interesting and instead of happening one at a time they are all sort of intertwined and lead to some really intriguing plot developments. So I approve.

The gist of this installment is that our group of friends from the first book (plus or minus some members; I don’t remember who was around last time) is now presiding over Fillory (aka Narnia) and a certain friend, Quentin, is totally bored like any self-respecting young adult. He’s on the hunt for a quest and after a false start or two finds himself on a nice hearty Quest that may or may not lead to the salvation of Fillory and magic as we know it. No big deal.

Interspersed with this narrative is that of Julia, who was absent for most of (nearly all? Again, terrible at remembering) the first book and now we get to find out what the heck she was up to all that time. And it is DANG interesting. I almost wanted this book to be called Julia the BAMF except that I think it worked perfectly as it was and so I will be content with what I got.

I remember being decidedly unimpressed with the ending of The Magicians, though I don’t remember why, but I was very impressed with the ending of The Magician King. I was sure one thing was going to happen and it totally didn’t; I was sure another thing wasn’t going to happen and it totally did; both of these unexpected things managed to make sense to me. Fantastic.

The one major problem I had with this book is the writing itself, and since I listened to it I can’t provide you with any specific examples but I will tell you that Grossman seems to really enjoy redundancy, to the point where I found myself saying “YES I GET IT THANK YOU” out loud at work. Quietly, to be sure, but still out loud.

I will definitely be on the lookout for the (I believe) last book in this series whenever that comes out, with fingers crossed that Grossman gets a stricter editor.

Recommendation: For those who think magic in books is often too easy, lovers of Narnia and similar books, and readers who like a good Quest or two.

Rating: 8/10

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman (5 September — 7 September)

I was really super-interested in this book, which was billed to me as “What if Harry Potter were really real, but the students all had to go work in the non-magic world when they graduated?” A depressing thought indeed! And that’s a pretty okay billing, but the book is more like “What if you spent your whole childhood hoping for magic, and then you got it, and then you realized that it was pretty boring, and then you resigned yourself to real life, but then the non-boring magic you’d hoped for happened, but then it was nothing like Narnia anyway?” Two depressing thoughts indeed!

Unfortunately, though I really liked the book as I was reading it, I was left with a sense of annoyance at the end. I think it was because of the disjointed mess that is the plot as described above. There are a lot of good ideas here, but they don’t all fit together as well as they maybe could. I don’t want to say that Grossman didn’t do his best, because I honestly don’t know how he could have told this particular story differently, but I think maybe he should have told a different one.

The beginning is excellent. Our hero Quentin gets to a Princeton interview to find the interviewer dead, but the paramedic on the scene has envelopes for him and his friend James. Only Quentin takes his, and, after opening it, he finds himself on the grounds of what he thinks is Fillory, Grossman’s version of Narnia and the setting for Quentin’s most favorite books ever. It’s not, though, it’s actually a school called Brakebills and Quentin is there for the entrance exam. After a really long exam and some argument among the professors, Quentin is admitted. He spends the next four years learning magic, making friends, and doing some stupid things that don’t turn out nearly as well as he hopes.

But then Quentin and pals graduate, and are learning to deal with the real world, which I think is an entirely interesting premise to begin with, but Grossman throws in a free trip to Fillory and suddenly the book is a quest novel. And then it gets weird, and I don’t want to say anything to spoil it because it gets interesting, but it’s also disappointing in the end and I just don’t know. And there are a whole bunch of guns in the first act that totally fail to go off in the third even though they could have been very very very interesting plot points, and that frustrates me immensely.

As I’m typing this I’m realizing that I liked the book even less than I thought I did! This is terrible. It’s not that I hated it; I was riveted to the pages every chance I could get because I really liked the characters and the setting and the writing. But if I could, I’d go back in time and tell myself to skip it.

Rating: 5/10

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