This is an odd series. When I finished reading the first book, The Magicians, I struggled to find a way to describe it to people. Ultimately, I settled on saying that it was college years Harry Potter, combined with the Chronicles of Narnia, as written by Stephen King. When I started reading this book, I was expecting something similar. It’s really not though. This book is vastly different from the first one, and I liked it a lot better. I actually feel like this book has more common with Voyage of the Dawn Treader than The Magicians.
The biggest, and best change, from the first book is in the characters. The story still focuses on Quentin, but we also get a lot more information on Julia, and her introduction to the magical world. In The Magicians, Quentin and his friends are moody, sullen, and hedonistic, but all without purpose. It made the book a little rough to get through, because none of the main characters were particularly likeable. In The Magician King, however, the characters have matured. Quentin, still somewhat uncertain about his purpose, isn’t constantly depressed. He wants more out of his life, but he’s also much more confident, which leads him to be more decisive and content with his choices. His companions have also grown. They still have many of the underlying character traits from the first book, but they’re also more refined and confident. The shift from whiny emo kids to capable and competent adults was one of the best parts of the book. It also made it a very satisfying sequel.
There are two stories being told throughout the book. The first follows Quentin as he searches for, then finds, then seeks to complete a quest. There are some parts that really drag, and the story can get confusing, but it still works, partially because the characters feel the same thing. They get bored and frustrated when things aren’t moving quickly, and they are also really confused about some of the circumstances they find themselves in. The second story overlaps the first book, and follows her magical training. Julia’s story is tight and quick, with lots of character development. I found Julia’s story to be more engaging, but at the same time, it was also harder to suspend my disbelief. Mainly because of how Julia and her peers are described. They’re geniuses, and their intellectual prowess is described in highly academic terms, but it feels hollow. I couldn’t shake the sense that the characters considered themselves geniuses, but they had really just memorized some impressive sounding material. It reminded me of the bar scene in Good Will Hunting, and they’re just acting smart instead of actually being smart.
The ending of the book was a little weird. It seemed kind of abrupt, and I felt like there were some things that went unresolved. Then, as I thought about it a little more, I realized that that wasn’t the case, and the ending came at a pretty good spot. It will be interesting to see how things continue in the third book.