I didn't like Quentin as a protagonist in The Magicians and nothing has changed. Absolutely nothing makes him happy. He had the perfect life as King of Fillory. This was supposedly his dream and yet Quentin just had to poke the bear. It costs him of course and he ends up back in front of his parents home with Julia and vows never to take Fillory for granted again. That lasts about a hot New York minute because now he has to play the hero and save magic. Quentin just has to be special even though he's a weak ineffectual asshole, who's completely wrapped up in himself. As I said in my review of the first book, a protagonist need not be likable; however they should at least be interesting and I found that throughout The Magician King, I simply wanted Quentin to go away and never come back.
When The Magician King shifted to Julia, I actually became hopeful for this book. Women really didn't fare well in The Magicians and I naively thought that Grossman was attempting to redeem himself. Quentin can see that Julia is the shadow of her former self and his solution is for them to have some torrid affair. Yeah, he's the Magician King, so I suppose his penis is magical now. When he and Julia get shifted back to earth, they have to depend on the skills Julia picked up as a hedgewitch. Julia took a very different path to magic than the safe Brakebills version that Quentin did and while she's prepared to navigate earth, she wants to get away from it as fast as possible because it is fraught with too much pain.
I love the idea of Julia joining up with a group of hedgewitchs who have mental illness to finally learn not only about magic but the source of magic altogether. Julia's quest for magic costs her even before she meets up with Murs, because she has to give up her family. By the time Julia realises that she doesn't actually need more power and has everything she needs, having created a new family with her fellow hedgewitches, it's too late to stop. For her trouble, Julia is raped by a trickster Fox God and has her humanity ripped away from her. We are told that the rape lasts for ten minutes and how expert the Trickster God is at rape because he kicks her legs open before penetrating Julia from behind. But wait, there's a pay off. When the God empties his semen into Julia, she actually receives an increase in power and it feels good. Sure, she has to suffer the loss of that which makes her human but hey more power right. Grossman then doubles down because losing her humanity makes it possible for Julia to become a demi Goddess of sorts - a dryad. It's all good and the rape is forgotten because now Julia gets to babysit a tree. What the ever loving hell.
I don't even have any words for this look at the bright side of rape approach that Grossman chose to employ with Julia. It smacks of this is what you get for not knowing your limitations or place because essentially, Julia's rape is a punishment for seeking out a God/Goddess. And it is directly because of Julia's actions that the Gods take notice and decide to shut down magic altogether.
Then there's Poppy, who irritates Quentin because she is smart and far more obsessed with Dragons than Fillory. Unlike Quentin, she didn't grow up reading the Fillory books repeatedly and anytime she has a different opinion than him, it's because she's Australian and not because he's an asshole. Poppy agrees to help Quentin and Julia get back to Fillory but has no plans to go there herself and when she arrives though she takes it in good stride, she has no intention of throwing away her life to remain there. Quentin cannot wrap his mind around this fact. Why wouldn't she want to give up her studies, family and friends to sleep with this asshat and remain in a world she never wanted to enter? I liked that Poppy knew who she was and where she was going and so of course, Grossman had to ruin it by having Poppy choose to stay behind in Fillory after magic has been saved because with Julia gone to a new world, there's a vacancy on the throne. Why can't a female character in this series have a backbone? Why can't she know what she wants and stick to it? Essentially, Poppy exists to help Quentin feel less guilty about what happened to Alice.
The male characters don't fare much better. We have Josh who buys a palazzo in Venice for reasons after selling the button and then playing the role of The Wizard of Oz for funsies. Keep in mind that these whiny ridiculous entitled young adults can use magic to hot wire cars and simply pull money out of an ATM when they chose. If that were not enough, in The Magicians we saw that Brakebills was more than happy to set these fools up with office jobs in which they spent the day playing video games but Josh just had to sell the damn button. Unlike Quentin, who spent his time playing the role of the bored king, Josh travelled to many worlds but not because of a sense of adventure but in search of tits and ass. It's about as one dimensional as a character can get. Josh is adamant about returning to Venice but as soon as Quentin is out of the way, he's more than happy to replace him as a King of Fillory.
Then there's Elliot, who doesn't really have a lot to do in this book. He's joined the quest to find the seven keys but it's Quentin who finds the last two. When it's all said and done, though Elliot may be high king of Fillory, it doesn't count for much because he is unable to stop Quentin from being sent back to earth. He expresses his sadness by kissing Quentin and then immediately apologising for it. Thanks for that Grossman.
Penny makes a brief return. He's become some kind of special magical monk in the Neitherworld. Penny has learned to do magic without his hands and is basically in this book to Lord his accomplishments over Quentin and inform him about the fact that the Gods are taking magic back. Penny's as unlikable as ever but at least he's not afraid to call Quentin on his shit, even if his voice gets high and scratchy when he does.
The Magicians is a book about entitled twenty somethings and often feels like a bad version of Friends, though it is littered with references to Planet of the Apes, Harry Potter, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland etc, until I was ready to scream, "enough already, come up with something original". If ever an author could be accused of trying too hard it's Grossman in The Magician King. The book is filled with the most unoriginal snark and eye rolling that I had to remind myself that the characters were supposedly in their twenties and not angst filled teens.
Magical rape semen, entitled twenty somethings, magic that feels ripped off from elsewhere, and a plot that's about 100 pages too long --filled with pointless snark -- made The Magician King hard to finish. If you must read this tripe because you have a strain of masochism, then please at least save yourself some money and borrow it from the library. Your wallet doesn't deserve to suffer a loss for this tripe.