Can you read a book and dislike the protagonist? That was the question I pondered while reading Lev Grossman’s immensely successful book The Magicians (my review here). Because I very much liked the book, at least its worldbuilding and its plot, even if I did very much dislike its protagonist Quentin Coldwater. I was unsure at the time whether or not I would read the sequel, The Magician King, and on a whim at the library last week I picked it up and gave it a shot.
The Magician King begins a few years after the events of the first book. In the intermediate time Quentin has matured in his outlook on life. He’s less of a nihilist, less pessimistic. Sure, he’s still got a long way to go, but his inner monologue was much more palatable from the get-go. Quentin is a king of Fillory now, along with King Eliot and Queens Julia and Janet. They live in a magical world filled with happiness, and through it all Quentin realizes that he’s bored. Be that as it may, Quentin is relatively happy and satisfied with his life, something new to him.
One of the problems with The Magician King is that there is a lack of obvious conflict until very late in the book. There are conflicts for the characters, but nothing seeming to unite them, at least not at first. Quentin is bored and longs for more excitement in life. That’s the gist of it.
Format-wise, The Magician King spends about half of the book continuing the story of Quentin Coldwater. Concurrently, chapters alternate with a “flashback” style story, developing Julia’s past and how she came to be a magician. The reasoning for this doesn’t become clear until over halfway through the book, and while it is effective and works at toying with the Reader, it’s also jarring to the pace of the novel at times. To me, Julia’s journey just wasn’t as wonderful as Quentin’s.
Regardless of these two drawbacks, the sequel was an enjoyable book. Grossman continued to pull me into the world(s) he’d created, making me somehow care about Quentin this time around in the process. The latter half of the book was very exciting, with a climax rising up quickly for Quentin’s plot, while Julia’s logically built to an unforgettable-yet-terrible climax.
I have no doubts that there will be a sequel to this book. The Magician King opens far too many boxes that it doesn’t shut. Will I be along for the ride whenever the book comes out? Without a doubt, yes. Grossman’s universe is too interesting for me to abandon. I’m drawn to his pop-culture filled fantasy, curious as to how the whole thing will wind up. The Magician King surpasses its predecessor in every way, but the biggest improvement was the tone of this story compared with that of the first. Quentin was a more mature protagonist, and for that I was thankful. He’s still developing as a character, and I look forward to watching Quentin grow.