The Magician King is the second book in the Magicians series, but don’t let that put you off. It has none of the usual drawbacks one would expect from the middle book of a trilogy (dull, too full of plot, etc). Instead it is a joy to read, with a perfectly balanced blend of storyline, character development and gorgeous description.
In the previous book we saw everything from Quentin, the protagonist’s, sarcastic and somewhat self-obsessed point of view. Not that this was a bad thing at all; in fact, one of the things I like most about these novels is the realistically flawed characters, who make everything more believable. After all, it’s much easier to connect with a book if you can draw parallels between the characters and yourself, or people you know. However, this meant that Quentin was always centre stage, and some of the other characters (such as his childhood friend Julia) didn’t really have their story told.
In The Magician King, this is remedied; Every two chapters or so, the author recaps what happened to Julia whilst the events of the first book were taking place. Julia’s story adds a whole other level of darkness to the book, which serves as a nice counterpoint to the whimsical, Narnia-like land of Fillory, where the rest of it is set. I thought she was a really interesting character, and it was definitely worth the wait to learn more about her.
One of the best things about the book is that even the most morbid aspects are approached with humour and wit. The author’s huge imagination shines through in every page, and above all you can tell he had fun writing it. Grossman’s version of the underworld is a badly lit sports hall that can only be reached by slide, for God’s sake.
Towards the end of the book everything got a bit meta, but instead of becoming pretentious (a trap I’m sure many other authors would have fallen into) it was simply full of good, interesting ideas that stuck in my mind long after I finished reading about them.
I would highly recommend The Magician King (although only if you’ve already read The Magicians) as it is a smart, well written exploration of magic and imagination- just like the first one. Whatever you do, though, don’t watch the TV show (it’s fucking terrible).