Lev Grossman’s The Magician King follows up The Magicians and continues the magical journey of Quentin Coldwater. Quentin has been serving as one of the kings of Fillory, but in his restlessness, he embarks on a quest that plants him back in reality, on Earth. Stuck there with Julia, his childhood friend who has seemingly lost her humanity in an effort to become the witch that she is, Coldwater desperately seeks his return to the mythical, grown up Narnia that drove his childhood and brought him fleeting adult happiness. But Julia wants it more, sensing that she belongs in the realm of the surreal, the strange, the magical far more than among the wanton members of humanity.
While this book starts slow, the real story falls in Julia’s past. Here we learn about what made her, and these chapters dig into the pain of her Brakebills rejection, a rejection that put her on the streets, driving her nearly insane, before ultimately landing in with an elite group of magicians, a group determined to invoke a god. Grossman does Julia justice—the reader needed to know and understand her, to live through her desperate plight.
Interspersed with these tales of the past, Julia and Quentin return home, entering a quest to save not only Fillory, but also all magic. With the gods threatening to cut off the source, all stops must be pulled out. All of the old cast is back, with Josh and Penny playing central roles despite their self-exile from Fillory. In the process, we get to see what we have been waiting for: Quentin in all his glory, Quentin the king, the magician king, raining down power and fire on all of those who confront him. Yet in the end, such actions are not enough, and young Coldwater, once again finds his glass empty and his desires unsatisfied.