Review of THE MAGICIAN KING by Lev Grossman
Viking, August 2011
Back on planet Earth, Brakebills School selects among the most promising students... to learn magic. Both Quentin and Julia were selected to be examined, but only Quentin passed. Julia, distracted by the promise of magic, failed the exam and was returned to Earth, without false memories of the missing time. But Julia is logical and when the pieces of the past don't add up, she's convinced something really had happened, that she's missed the opportunity she was born to follow.
Although it's backstory to the plot of saving the galaxy, Julia's story is really the driving force in THE MAGICIAN KING. Quentin really doesn't go anywhere and the idea of saving the universe by sailing randomly because the keys to the solution are bound to show up just didn't work for me. Julia's story, on the other hand, did. As Julia discovers proof of magic... magic that Brakebills does everything in its power to hide, she uncovers a bizarre world where students of magic attempt to learn the little dribs and drabs available to them, and is continually frustrated by the small amount known, and by the price she must pay to receive it.
If author Lev Grossman had given us Julia's story, this could have been a masterwork. Unfortunately, Julia's story is a backstory element in a linear plot that just didn't grip me. I know Quentin is wounded by the loss of his love, but that's past. I can understand wandering aimlessly, but it seems that, at some point, an aim becomes necessary. The whole interlude (making at least half the novel) of Julia and Quentin being sent back to earth doesn't really seem to give us much, except an excuse to go into Julia's backstory where the key to understanding the threat to the universe (something Julia already knows because she was there) is exposed.
I really wanted to like this book and it's obvious that Grossman can write. But for me, the whole was less than the sum of the parts.
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