I’d been meaning to get to this series all of 2014. After being totally amazed by both The Girl With All The Gifts and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August I asked the person the Australian publisher who had recommended them both what I could checkout next. And this was the series they said. So having failed to get around to it in 2014 I thought I’d kick off with book one first up in 2015.
I think part of the reason I kept putting off the series was the quote from Diana Gabaldon that the series was like “if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz”. Not because I have anything against a Diana Gabaldon quote (I am loving Outlander, can’t wait for Part 2 of Season 1 and now know why early in my bookselling career so many people kept asking for the next book in the series!). The reason I think I delayed was because I already had my “Harry Potter for Grown Ups” obsession in 2014; The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman. So two in one year didn’t feel right. So again, new year, new obsession. And I am definitely obsessed with this series.
To sum the book up it is a British police procedural full of wicked humour and a big dollop of magic. Peter Grant is a freshly minted police constable in the London Metropolitan Police Service. He’s hoping against hope he gets assigned somewhere glamorous and not given a boring desk job. When he attends a brutal murder scene and takes a witness statement from what turns out to be a ghost his concerns about a boring assignment are completely forgotten. Instead Peter is introduced to London’s underworld. No, not the underworld of gangs, drugs and crime but the underworld of wizards, vampires, nymphs and river gods. And things are not on the up and up in this under world. On top of territory disputes there are other tensions bubbling to the surface. Tensions that threaten to burst onto the streets of London in a full-scale riot. Peter must navigate through his new circumstances learning not only the craft of magic but careful diplomacy at the same time as tracking down a spirit which appears to be at the heart of all the violence and trouble that is slowly flooding the streets.
I am well hooked on this series and cannot wait to get into the rest of the books. The humour is that pitch perfect British variety that combines the sardonic with surreal in perfect balance and the blend of London history, real and magical makes for truly entertaining reading.
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The third and final volume in an absolutely brilliant series is a truly fitting finale. It is everything you want from the final book in a series. Loose ends are tied up, the gang gets back together for one last, possibly world ending, epic quest. Grossman throws you straight back into the world of Quentin Coldwater without missing a beat and five pages in your already start to dread that this is going to be the last book, the last adventure with these great characters.
Things aren’t looking too good for Quentin. He’s been kicked out of the fantastical land he has always dreamed about being a part of and is on his own back in the ‘real’ world. After a failed attempt to go straight (as straight as a trained magician can go – teaching magic of course) Quentin find himself drafted into a makeshift band of would be magical criminals who have been hired to retrieve a mysterious, and highly sort after, object. Meanwhile the end of Fillory is nigh and High King Elliot is determined not to let it happen.
One of the things I really loved about this last book was the perspective Grossman tells it from. We are introduced to a new character, Plum, and much of Quentin’s story is told from her perspective. This is a wonderful change as you are allowed to see Quentin in a new light, as the adult he has become over the course of the three books. Quentin has been far from the perfect hero. He has been selfish, self-absorbed and obsessed. The power he has gained from learning to become a magician made him (more) arrogant and privileged. Yet he has paid the price for his flaws and grown as a person which is one of the most enjoyable parts of this highly enjoyable series. To see a character grow, not always in a good way, but to be part of that journey. It is just brilliant.
We also get parts of the story told from Elliot and Janet’s perspectives which hasn’t happened in the previous two books. We get to know them a bit more this way too by being privy to their inner thoughts and motivations and again this allows Grossman to shed to new light on other familiar characters. In fact most of Quentin’s story in this book is told from others’ perspectives which just adds another layer of enjoyment.
This has been a thoroughly enjoyable trilogy which I will definitely be revisiting. A satisfying end but with room for possibilities…
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I think I loved this even more than The Magicians (which if you haven’t read beware spoilers ahead). The first half of The Magicians was like an adult Harry Potter and full of the wonder of discovering magic was real. The second half was an exploration of what happens to people who discover a new power. It was much darker, which I really liked, and you really got to know the negative sides of the books characters which is not something many books of this genre do.
The Magician King picks up where The Magicians ended. Quentin, Elliot, Janet and Julia are now the Kings and Queens of Fillory but Quentin is growing restless. He wants a purpose, a quest, an adventure and he will do anything to find or create one. Interspersed with Quentin’s story are flashbacks to Julia who went down a very different (and much darker) path to gain her magical knowledge. And as before there a dues to be paid for gaining this power.
Grossman again finely balances a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, referencing other familiar stories, while slowly turning what seems to be an innocuous and manufactured quest into something far more important. We explore more of Fillory and the expanded universe and (much to some characters’ shock and horror) revisit Earth and the ‘real’ world. I also felt I reconnected to the characters after becoming detached from them after some of the questionable decisions they made in the first book. Loose ends from the first book are also nicely tied up and the ending is both highly satisfying as a reader and nicely sets up the third and final book in the series.
This truly is a brilliant series and while I’m late to the party in discovering it I get the advantage of reading all three books in the trilogy close together with the final book, The Magician’s Land due out next month. And I will be reading that one straight away!
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I have been meaning to get round to this book for a while (thanks mainly to the Bookrageous podcast) and with the final book in the trilogy due out in August I thought it was about time I got started. My first impression of the book was that this was Harry Potter for adults. Instead of a 12-year-old boy going off to school to learn magic and wizardry this is about a 17-year-old boy going off the college, in upstate New York, to learn magic and become a magician.
There are some similarities with Hogwarts, the Harry Potter novels and other fantasy classics like The Chronicles of Narnia but Lev Grossman acknowledges all these sources in clever and often humorous ways so you never get a sense of them being ripped off in any way. Grossman has also constructed his own unique and vivid world(s) so you know you are definitely in a different type of story.
One of the other big differences is the main character, Quentin Coldwater. He is not your like-at-all-costs hero. He is a flawed character which isn’t apparent at first but manifests itself as the book goes on. He is struggling to find himself and has an almost superiority complex which is only fed more by learning to become a magician. Grossman packs all of the years of magic college into the first half of the book. This is not one book for every year of college and it is college life warts and all (pardon the pun). And when Quentin and the friends he makes finish college they don’t set out on a big adventure or quest but instead waste their new-found knowledge and skills on drinking, drugs and sex. (This strand of the story reminded me a bit of The Secret History by Donna Tartt.)
The major difference though is the tone of Grossman’s novel. Often books of this type have a sense of earnestness. The heroes of the story are the chosen ones with a strong sense of their purpose and what is right. Grossman flips this on its head. Instead of earnestness there is a layer of cynicism and the characters purposefulness alludes them (for different reasons each). Instead a sense of entitlement clouds their judgements, destabilizes their relationships with each other and ultimately leads to tragic consequences.
While this does make everything sound dark and broody everything is tempered with an epic, adventurous narrative that moves along at an addictive pace. It was refreshing to have a main character who was not perfect, was guilty at times of being selfish and struggling to find his own identity. I also really enjoyed the way other worlds weren’t the escape people hoped them to be, especially if what you are trying to escape is yourself.
I can’t wait to see where Grossman takes the story next.
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