I recently read The Magicians and loved it. I had high expectations for The Magician King and they were fully met. Both of these books are completely different than most fantasy. Like I mentioned in my review of The Magicians, these books are a bit depressing. But I think they seem depressing because they are so realistic and that is what makes them unusual. If you haven’t read The Magicians, I would recommend not reading this post, not because of any spoilers (although there probably will be some), but just because I don’t think you’ll really understand what I’m talking about.
The Magicians ended with main character Quentin invited to go back to magical Fillory and become one of the rulers along with friends Eliot, Janet and former classmate/crush Julia. All goes well until one day, when out on a hunt, something happens that pushes Quentin to want a Quest. He misses his first chance but a second presents itself soon after so he and Julia sail off to the far East of Fillory. After a few adventures, they come across a golden key; a golden key that unlocks a door in the air and sends Quentin and Julia back to Earth.
And this is where the story gets interesting. Quentin and Julia are now stranded on Earth with no way of getting back to Fillory. And even if they can get back, will it even matter? Fillory time moves differently than Earth time and there’s no telling how long they will be away. During their attempts to find a way home, we also get to see some of Julia’s history. Julia never went to Brakebills although she took the entrance test. And the attempt to erase the memory of that failed. So Julia becomes a hedge witch, someone who learns magic through an underground system of safe houses and skill levels. And it costs her almost more than she has to give.
Julia and Quentin do get back to Fillory and fortunately only a year has gone by in Fillory for three Earth days. They come back to find Eliot in the midst of a quest to find the seven gold keys of Fillory’ the only thing that can save Fillory from imminent destruction. We get a tantalizing glimpse of Quentin as a true Magician King before the end of the quest and eventually Fillory is saved and the story ends as it should. Perhaps not as happily ever after as most readers are used to fantasy stories ending, but this ending was much more satisfying.
I don’t know if Lev Grossman has any plans to write more stories about Quentin but I hope he does. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how good these books are and how much I like them. I would highly recommend them both.