Rarely does the first installation in a series transcend the first, but this bridge book of Grossman’s Magicians series is better than The Magicians. As much better as Lord of the Rings over The Hobbit. The Magicians is a warmed over, but improved Harry Potter. The Magician King has inner and outer conflict and uncertainly that never bothered the inhabitants of Hogwarts or Narnia. The latter reference because mythical land of Fillory is an obvious send up of that fairy land.
The narrative jumps back and forth between two plot lines, one of which obviously finished before the other started. But there’s a reason—and a pay-off—for the tangled tale. (No, I’m not telling.) Where The Magicians followed just Quentin Coldwater and he is The Magician King, the second plot line involves someone else. Hidden in the second plot line is the trigger for the first.
The biggest difference between the two stories is the power of Grossman’s writing. Departing from merely rewriting other stories, though one plot line superficially parallel’s C. S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, most of the story follows the inner struggle of the protagonists with their special abilities and their role in life. The characters are believable and sympathetic. Their struggles are ours.
While Grossman didn’t hesitate borrowing from various mythic or religious traditions, sadly all his Christian references seem based on the Old Testament-based Christianity which gave that faith a bad name in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries. That said, many positive Christian values—as well as those other faith and non-faith communities—are included in the character set of the cast.
Best cover art of the three.
I’m definitely up for The Magician’s Land, the trilogies conclusion.