The Magician King by Lev Grossman
Viking Press, New York, 2011
From my TBR pile. My first book for the Once Upon A Time VII challenge.
I read The Magicians last year and found it just okay. Early reviews mentioned “Harry Potter for adults”. The novel is about a New York City teenager, Quinton Coldwater, who while thinking he is applying for university is surprised with an invitation to attend Brakesbills College, a kind of ivy league Hogwarts. Quinton, along with other “Physical” students, spends years in class, learning spell casting, and enjoying first loves, sex, drugs and drinking. Eventually several of the students enter the land of Fillory, an “imaginary” place from a series of beloved children’s book very much like C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Maybe it was the referential use of this classic series that made me a bit squeamish.
I found the second book much more satisfying. It centers on two of the characters from the first book, Quinton and Julia, and brings historic depth and clarity to their behavior and their choices. There is better storytelling, more fantasy, with strong roots in folklore and mythology. I think Grossman worked hard to bring his characters to life and strengthen the magic. I am hoping that there will be more books to come because I’d like to know what happens to these young people.
The goddess was warm, even humorous, and loving, but she had a second aspect, terrible in its bleakness: a mourning aspect that she assumed in winter, when she descended into the underworld, away from the light. There were different versions of the story. In some she grew angry at all mankind and hid herself underground half the year out of rage. In some she lost one of her dryad-daughters and retired to Hades in grief. In others the goddess was fooled by some Loki-type trickster-god and bound to spend half the year hiding her warmth and fruitfulness in the underworld, against her will. But in each version her dual nature was clear. She was the goddess of darkness as well as light. A Black Madonna: the blackness of death, but also the blackness of good soil, dark with decay, which gives rise to life. From page 325.