Lev Grossman’s The Magician King is a fantasy novel about Quentin Coldwater. It is the sequel to The Magicians, in which Quentin learns that magic is real, attends Brakebills College, and graduates as a classically trained magician. Upon graduation, Quentin learns that Fillory, a fantasy world that he and his friends had always assumed was just a work of fiction by Christopher Plover, is actually real and they rediscover the way to travel to it. When The Magician King opens, Quentin, two of his fellow graduates from Brakebills, Eliot and Janet, and Julia, who went to high school with Quentin, rule as the two kings and two queens of Fillory. In The Magician King, Quentin, who has always viewed himself as the hero of his own adventure, learns the true meaning of what it means to be a hero.
Quentin and his fellow monarchs are on a quest, though not one that is too trying. After all, “everything was easy. Nothing was hard. The dream had become real.” The kings and queens of Fillory are searching for the “Seeing Hare,” a Unique Beast of Fillory that has the power to see the future. They are just about to catch it when they realize that the hare has set a trap for them. The monarchs stop before a massive clockwork tree. The face of the clock has been destroyed, giving the monarchs pause. Quentin shoots an arrow at the tree and watches it stop in the air before shattering. Looking at it, Quentin feels a thrill of adventure and urges his friends to join him on a new quest. However, he ultimately decides not to approach the tree. The monarchs instead leave the meadow to eat lunch and drink champagne. They are interrupted by Jollyby, Master of the Hunt, who has caught the Seeing Hare. When Jollyby asks the hare what it sees in their future, it shares that it sees “death and destruction...disappointment and despair!” Jollyby suddenly has blood coming out of his mouth. He coughs and dies.
Back at Castle Whitespire, the monarchs try to figure out who killed Jollyby. Meanwhile, Quentin and Julia volunteer to travel to Outer Island, a small island on the eastern edge of the Fillorian Empire that has not paid its taxes for a couple years. Quentin reflects sardonically that this will be his final quest. In preparation for his journey, Quentin holds a tournament to find the greatest swordsman of the realm, and the winner is Bingle, a swordsman so accomplished that one opponent chooses to step out of the ring rather than face him. Quentin also recruits Benedict, an adolescent cartographer, to join him. Finally, he has a ship, the Muntjac, rebuilt. When they were in high school together, Quentin had been obsessively in love with Julia. However, when he passed the admissions test to Brakebills and Julia did not, he quickly moved on to his new life and his new adventure. Looking at her as they are about to depart, Quentin reflects that “if they were ever going to fall in love with each other, it was going to happen on this ship.” Instead, Quentin spends his time exploring the ship and learning how it works. He even discovers a talking sloth in the hold that asks Quentin to visit often.
Collecting taxes from Outer Island proves to be quite easy. Quentin meets Elaine and her daughter Eleanor. Elaine is surprised to find that Quentin is not on a quest to find the magic key that winds up the world. The key is actually on another island, “After.” Quentin considers this new opportunity and finds it tempting like a “big buzzing neon sign in the darkness that reads adventureland.” Elaine warns Quentin that After, where the keys and adventure wait, is outside of Fillory. And there, Quentin is not a king. However, Quentin does decide to go to After. Before he leaves, he is given a book called “The Seven Golden Keys,” and Eleanor makes Quentin and Julia two passports, “heavily scribbled over in colored pencil.” Quentin goes to find the key. The key “wasn’t terribly bright, and it wasn’t tarnished. It had the deep matte patina of an authentically old thing.” Julia takes Quentin’s hand before he lifts the key and feels “around in the air.” The key clicks, remains stuck in the air, and Quentin opens a door. When he looks up, he discovers that he has left Fillory and has returned to Earth.
On their first voyage, Quentin and his friends had traveled to Fillory thanks to their friend Penny’s expertise at entering the Neitherlands. They also had used a magic button to enter the Neitherlands. But now, Quentin will have to find an alternate route. He returns to Brakebills without success, at which point Julia takes over. Julia, who did not pass the entrance exam to Brakebills, had instead wandered across America until she found underground houses of people trying desperately to learn magic. Julia, it turns out, has mastered underground magic and her connections lead them to Venice where they find Josh, one of Quentin’s classmates from Brakebills. Unfortunately, Josh has sold the magic button to a dragon, but he introduces them to Poppy, an Australian who studies dragons. Through Poppy’s connections, Quentin is able to meet the dragon.
The dragon refuses to return the magic button to Quentin. However, it does explain to Quentin that “you do not know what a hero is. You think a hero is one who wins. But a hero must be prepared to lose.” Quentin thinks that the dragon is “scoldier” than he would have expected. The dragon goes on to explain that the “Neitherlands are closed. But the first door is still open.” Returned to his friends, Quentin and the others try to figure out what the first door might refer to. It is Julia who realizes that it is a reference to Christopher Plover’s house. They travel there and just as they are about to fall asleep in the house, the four of them wake up in Fillory.
They again board the Muntjac, but this...
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