An Apologetic Book Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magician King
The Magician King by Lev Grossman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed The Magicians, but this one didn’t really do it for me. I’m not sure what it was. It seemed to drag and jump about and left red herrings (Janet, The Order, Penny). Grossman used too many words, I think, and that diluted the potential punch of the story. There were some parts that were clearly supposed to be really poignant, but they were obscured by so much internal monologue on the part of the characters that I just didn’t feel the impact. I expected to be bludgeoned (emotionally speaking) and instead got whacked with a foam mallet.

“Quentin had always felt that way but now he felt this way. It pained him to feel this way. Frankly, he felt pissed. But, that’s what he signed up for…” That kind of thing. That’s not a direct quote, by the way, just my paraphrasing. Grossman’s writing isn’t that bad (it’s not bad at all, really…it’s just not as awesome as it was in the first book), but that’s kind of the feeling I got while reading.

I don’t mean for this to be a negative review, and there were parts I enjoyed. It’s possible, too, that I picked this one up too soon after Gaiman’s American Gods and Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, both of which dealt with similar issues of mortals interacting with gods and attaining “god” status themselves. Maybe if I’d read this one first, it would have held a little more oomph for me. As it was, though, I’m just kind of glad to be done with it.

Now I need to take it back to the library so Lev Grossman’s author photo on the book jacket stops looking at me reproachfully. I’m sorry! I just didn’t really like it! I don’t like Curtis Sittenfeld’s books either, if that’s any consolation.

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5 Replies to “An Apologetic Book Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman”

  1. First off, thanks for your review–I look at the raves for this, and feel very out-of-step. It’s not the words, in my view–I don’t sense a big stylistic difference between this and “The Magicians”–but, without spoilers, the ending is unbelievably downbeat, and it feels forced. Books, movies, TV series–all have to earn happy endings, but unhappy endings must also be earned. The Wire, for example, earns the unhappy endings of season 4, and the mixed/unhappy ending of season 5. The Magician King set itself up to redeem Quentin, and then Grossman had to keep hammering us over the head of how this was different, this was REAL magic book and by god, that’s going to be an unhappy ending. Somehow, what worked perfectly in “The Magicians” no longer worked in “The Magician King.” Minus additional points for a too-similar climax (one character’s story is very, very similar to how things go in The Magicians), a seriously problematic and gratuitous scene (same character, same climax), and yes. An almost-brilliant book spoiled by a too-horrific climax and a too-downbeat ending. One senses Grossman read *too* much George R.R. Martin.


  2. I love book reviews.
    And you just reminded me that I have had Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for years and haven’t started it.
    The lines you quoted would have totally bothered me too.


    1. I need to clarify that…those are my “poking fun at The Magician King” made-up lines. That’s not an exact quote, just a paraphrase of a section (or a couple of sections). If I ever publish a novel, I fully expect some annoying blogger to do the same to me. 🙂


      1. oops! Sorry, I missed that. But nothing would surprise me anymore. I can’t believe some of the things that get published!


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