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The Best Horror of the Year Volume Five
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The Magician King - Lev Grossman This is a sequel to a book I pretty much hated, so you may be wondering, why did I read it? Well, a lot of people said it's better than the first one, and despite my feeling that The Magicians was just a cynical author taking an unsentimental dump on Harry Potter and Narnia, I admit it did have well-written portions and some parts could have been great if not so full of jaded, bitter "grown up" misanthropy.

So, in The Magician King we return to NarniaFillory, where Quentin and his privileged little weenie friends are now kings and queens of NarniaFillory. Quentin loves being a King of NarniaFillory, as he often reminds us, but never throughout the book did I feel like he really loved it (or anything), he just liked the idea of being a king and living in a magical kingdom, because it was better than Earth, and all the friends and family he left behind.

But he's got some kind of yearning for adventure, so when a quest gets plopped in his lap, off he goes. And the quest is actually pretty interesting. In fact, the whole story was pretty interesting. The characters are now somewhat grown up, though still awfully petty and self-absorbed, but at least they're not spending all their time sitting around moaning about how much it sucks to be rich and powerful and riddled with angsty mommy and daddy issues.

Quentin's quest takes him away from NarniaFillory and back to Earth. He meets a dragon that lives in the canals of Venice. He meets several other old friends from the first book. He uncovers the origins of magic and discovers that there is an existential threat to NarniaFillory. The ending is very genre-appropriate and sad but not completely hopeless. And the writing was as good or better than in the first book. I will give The Magician King 3 stars for being entertaining in its own right, and not annoying me as much as The Magicians did.

Also, Julia was clearly the real main character, and Julia is pretty awesome. She's the girl we saw briefly in the first book — she didn't quite make the grade to go to HogwartsBrakebills, and she was supposed to have her memories Obliviatederased, but they weren't, and as we know from Quentin's brief encounter in The Magicians, she had basically become an embittered shell of a human being struggling to grasp something that she knew would always be out of her reach.

Well, in The Magician King, Julia is a queen of NarniaFillory, and we finally learn how she got that way. How she crawled through the "magic underground" to gain the power and knowledge that was handed to Quentin and his fellow HogwartsBrakebills students on a platter. Julia's story is a sad one of betrayal and obsession, but also a bad-ass one of courage and raw determination.

Unfortunately, Lev Grossman treats Julia much the same way he did Alice in the last book. I am starting to think he's got Jim Shooter syndrome when it comes to powerful, bad-ass chicks. Really, The Magician King should have starred Julia, not Quentin.

So, if you liked The Magicians, you will probably like The Magician King. If you didn't like The Magicians, The Magician King is better, but Lev Grossman is still a decent writer who strikes me as someone who kind of loves the genre he's writing but doesn't really respect it.