Quentin reads the first chapter of the book that may be the key to bringing magic back to the world: it describes a knight and his daughter (who he loved though wanted a boy) and that knightg being captured by a witch. Said daughter then goes on an epic quest to find the 9 keys and save her dad (and, I guess, implied she proves that he should be just as happy with a daughter as a son).
But the story ends after chapter 1, the rest is magically blank. They have the clues to the first quest - to go to this mystical island - which is in Fillory and Elliot is already on that. But, as Josh points out, it would be good if they could go to Fillory with Elliot and help him with that. And they have the magical clock of teleportation to Fillory - they just need the magic to power it
And to do that they need Myakovsky’s special magic batteries. So they need to find him. They don’t have magic but they do have the internet - and find Myakovsky being turned into a bear in a hedgewitch bar.
To find which bar they recruit Kady with proof of Julia’s sparks of magic. Kady is pretty much DONE with all of them but she’s willing to endure their company long enough to get enough magic to help Penny
They track the woman Mayakovsky was with - it’s Emily. She claims Mayakovsky, finally free from Brakebills South, and finally came back to her, professed his love and married her while they got very very very drunk. But she didn’t turn Mayakovsky into a bear and he didn’t transform himself. Nor is he the only source of magic in the city
So Kady, Josh, Quentin go out into the city to follow these trails including a manifested dinosaur from a kid’s drawing and a group of people in the park having an orgy. Alice also joins them since she’s also looking for magic and is super smart. She’s not there for a 1-2-1 with Quentin though
She also has a kitten - a young kitten is her early warning system that the Lamprey is close.
They find the woman who was using magic - preparing to jump off a tall building. Quentin goes to her, desperately trying to talk her down. It’s professor Lipson and she despairs of a land without magic, they both share just how utterly wretched it is and how little they appreciated magic when they had it. Oh and the magical battery idea? Her idea, she was the one who showed Mayakovsky how to do it and both warned him and gave him the idea. And she was very Unpleased when he then decided to run off with Emily and not her. But she didn’t turn him into a bear - instead she used her last, now empty battery, to do things he never would: bring joy and wonder.
Quentin manages to catch her before she falls - and the battery is destroyed in the process. There’s a little dwelling on that but not enough to be tasteless about him saving a woman’s life.
Then Alice’s cat explodes. Yes, Alice’s warning that the Lamprey is close is exploding kittens. Messy, exploding kittens. She leaves
The rest realise that if Lipson isn’t the one who turned Mayakovsky into a bear then someone else did - and realise Emily may also have a grudge or two. But when Quentin and Julia return to her, she’s already been attacked by Kady who stole the last battery to try and save Penny
In Fillory, Elliot has a cover story for why he’s going on a sailing trip when the whole kingdom is falling apart. He’s going to collect back taxes from outer regions since the kingdom is super super poor now. And while everyone disagrees it doesn’t matter because he’s king and does not need their approval. Except maybe from the Fairy Queen
She insists that Elliot take Fen, his wife and more than a little confused and addled, with him. And a spy. Fray - Fray stands for “Frail Human” and is Elliot and Fen’s daughter - now magically aged to teenaged years despite being only 2 months old. She makes it clear that a) she’s terrible and b) she’s fanatically loyal to the Fairy Queen. Fen fawns on her instantly. Elliot is more suspicious; especially since (as he and Margot snark in their classic snarky fashion) that the baby to teen thing is such a tired trope
Elliot and Margot also have a very emotional goodbye - Margot’s lip visibly quivering with emotion. She praises Elliot’s heroism while also reminding him there’s only one thing that separates a live hero from a dead moron: one bad decision. So if Elliot has a choice between being brave and smart, he knows which to choose
Because Margot is always a font of hard edged wisdom
Also going along with them is Bingle, a silent swordsman, an admiral and they’re going on a ship made from sentient trees which is known to be moody.
To the high seas!
The voyage is uneventful until they find an island and Elliot claims it. To a general lack of hailing but that’s fine his self-esteem can handle some lack of hailing. But they do accept him as king and introduce him to their leader, Father Poe. He even has the key they need
Well that was easy
Except not - because Father Poe needs that key to protect the people from an evil shadowy monster- identified by Fray as a Shadowbat, or they all die. The bat attacks on cue and everyone hides inside while Father Poe drives the creature away, but not before it kills someone. Clearly they need the key.
Except Fray notices that the wounds don’t resemble the Shadowbat wounds she’s seen. And Fen, daughter of a Blacksmith, knows clean knife wounds when she sees them
Elliot confronts Father Poe, grabs the key and reveals there is no Shadowbat - just an illusion created by the key. An illusion that allowed Father Poe to drive the villagers into hiding, need his help to save them - and gave him a cover for stabbing anyone who may oppose him. Elliot takes his knife and throws it to the new widow who just saw her husband killed. And then Elliot leaves, taking the key
And leaving Father Poe behind to the mercies of his victims… damn, Elliot has a brutal streak. The Fun King can and will execute mercilessly when he is Done. And I thought Margot was the one with the axe
On the boat Fray is suspicious because they didn’t collect the taxes and gold Elliot claimed was the point of this quest. They point out the key is both gold and magic therefore probably more valuable than anything else in the world ever at this point. She doesn’t believe them but Fen revels in the opportunity to say “don’t talk back to your father and me!” And Elliot follows up with a “Go to your room”
Parenthoods had its perks
Back to reality, Quentin sees another chapter of the book appear which is good… and is possessed by what I assume is the Lamprey which is definitely Not. Good.
It’s interesting how the storylines are split - and it actually kind of works. Magicians has always been a mix of the bleak and the fantastic, the gritty and the silly. But this separation has managed to both emphasise that mix while also adding coherence by splitting the two. Fillory has never been more silly (and Margot and Elliot are always entertaining - usually grossly and problematically troped but entertaining nevertheless; watching them cosplay their way through a magical fantasy land is endlessly amusing) while the real world is wallowing in its bleakness. The way everyone talks about magic, though, is really well done and brilliantly emphasises what they’ve lost beyond mere shiny powers and cool tricks