Book Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

This book was on the shortlist for the Indie Lit Awards in the Speculative Fiction genre. I read it because I was in the jury for this genre, which was a pleasure to do!

I didn’t read the prequel – this is the second book in the series. I got a bit bored after a while, although the story picked up again towards the end.

The Magician King: What it is about

From the publisher’s website: “The Magicians was praised as a triumph by readers and critics of both mainstream and fantasy literature. Now Grossman takes us back to Fillory, where the Brakebills graduates have fled the sorrows of the mundane world, only to face terrifying new challenges.

Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.

The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an epic quest for the Harry Potter generation. It also introduces a powerful new voice, that of Julia, whose angry genius is thrilling. Once again Grossman proves that he is the modern heir to C.S. Lewis, and the cutting edge of literary fantasy.”

The Magician King: What I thought

It didn’t really seem to matter that I hadn’t read the first book in this series, The Magicians. I did look up the story on wikipedia and was able to jump into this new story quite easily.

There wasn’t a general plot to the book, at least, it seemed so at first. It went from Fillory – a voyage on a ship for no clear reason, back to Earth, then back to Fillory, via Neitherland. There was a high Narnia factor, but there were more than just the two worlds. A new world was created by finding and using seven keys.

There were some interesting elements – Dragons in a Venice canal, a new world was created, Gods that were magicians (übermagicians) and more. I also liked the secondary story line about Julia. This was a very clever idea. She learned magic from an underground group. But it never became clear to me why Julia was focused on in particular and no one else from her group of friends (other than Quentin).

Definitely a book for adults (that enjoyed Narnia). For me, there wasn’t a clear enough story line, the story seemed to move from one thing to the next. Still, an entertaining read.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I got this book: for review from Viking for the Indie Lit Awards.
I read this in: English, the original language
Number of pages: 400
First published: 2011
Genre: fantasy


IndieLitAwards

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest ClineThis book was on the shortlist for the Indie Lit Awards in the Speculative Fiction genre. I read it because I was in the jury for this genre, which was a pleasure to do! (And actually, I wanted to read it anyway, not just for the awards). Oh, and the book won!

I enjoyed this book all the way through. Although it is set in the future, it was like I was reading something real, that was happening now.

Ready Player One: What it is about

Wade Watts, 18 years old, lives in a trailer on top of many more trailers. He is living with his awful aunt and is very poor. He spends most of his time in a van on a junk yard. There are junk yards with piles of cars everywhere, because petrol cars cannot be used anymore as there is not enough petrol left in the world.

In the van, Wade logs into OASIS to go to school. This is a huge online system. With some special glasses and gloves on, it feels as if he really is present at school, or playing online games after school hours. Wade is especially interested in finding a treasure, that has been left in the system by the inventor of OASIS, John Halliday, as a legacy after his death. Many people have tried to find it but so far no one has ever found even the first of three hidden keys.

Wade, however, does manage to find the first key and his online friends (or people that will become his friends) follow suit. But the Sixes are also after the keys. They are a large group of organised people who will do anything to find the treasure. They pressure Wade to tell them where the first key is as there will be severe repercussions if he doesn’t comply.

Bit by bit Wade discovers more clues to the prize, but has to fight off the Sixes at the same time.

There are a lot of references to old computer games and movies (from the 1980 especially), many of which Wade has to play with a perfect score in order to get closer to the keys.

Ready Player One: What I thought

I loved this book so much! I thought it was fantastic. From the description you might think this book is for computer geeks and it is. But it’s also for people that have an average interest in computer games.

I was totally immersed in the book while I was reading it. When I wasn’t reading, it was as if this acquaintance of mine, Wade Watts, was somewhere out there fighting a difficult battle. Only when I finished the book, and the issues were resolved, was I able to let go of the story.

It was a dystopian story in which the big corporation that the Sixes were working for, was in charge of most of what happened in the country, with lots of people working for them in a kind of slavery situation. Wade Watts is determined to undermine them and gets himself in dangerous situations to achieve this.

The world building could have been a bit more comprehensive. At times I felt I was looking through a tube, seeing Wade and his actions, but not really having a good idea what the rest of the world might look like and what its people were doing. This didn’t matter much, as the pace of the book was high and there was little time to stop and reflect on such matters.

My favorite moment was when Wade is in OASIS looking for a key and finds himself in a movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and discovers that he is a character in this movie. He has to (and can, as he has seen the movie many times) reproduce the exact dialogue of his character at exactly the right time. If he passes through the complete movie with few errors, he will be allowed to go to the next level of the search for the treasure. What a brilliant idea!

This is an absolutely wonderful book if you like science fiction-type books. A little computergames-geekyness doesn’t hurt, but even without that, this makes a great read.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I got this book: for review from Crown publishers for the Indie Lit Awards.
I read this in: English, the original language
Number of pages: 363
First published: 2011
Genre: science fiction
Extra: An interview with Ernest Cline, after winning the Indie Lit Awards


IndieLitAwards

Quick Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick NessThis book was on the shortlist for the Indie Lit Awards in the Speculative Fiction genre. I read this book because I was in the jury for this genre. I had read one previous book by Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go, which I enjoyed a lot.

This book was a children’s book. It has black and white pictures throughout the book, quite dramatic!

The book is about Conor, 13 years old, who is having nightmares. One nightmare in particular keeps coming back. But then one night, he wakes up to a real nightmare: A monster, looking like the yew tree that he can see from his window, is coming close up and looks very scary.

Conor’s mother is very ill and there are some doubts that she will get better, although everyone is putting on a brave face. At school Conor is being bullied, his grandmother (whom he doesn’t like) takes him in for a while, and at night he’s visited by a monster. Life is very difficult for Conor.

The monster that visits at night tells him stories from which it becomes clear that people aren’t just good or bad, as Conor has always thought, but that a baddie can do good things, and vice versa. This helps Conor in accepting his situation.

It was a very well-written book with a heavy topic. I’m not quite sure what age group this book would be most suitable for. My son (14) read it and seemed to enjoy it but we didn’t really get to discuss it together. I think he was a little ambivalent about the book.

I don’t read a lot of children’s books now that my own sons are teenagers, but I think this was a high-quality book, especially interesting for children who need to deal with a loss, or with guilt. Recommended.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I got this book: from my on-line book store

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 216

First published: 2011

Genre: fantasy, children’s fiction


IndieLitAwards

Book Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/63 by Stephen KingThis book was on the shortlist for the Indie Lit Awards in the Speculative Fiction genre. As I was in the jury for this genre, I had to read it, which was a pleasure to do! (And actually, I wanted to read it anyway, not just for the awards).

It’s a huge book, and it could have been a bit shorter for my liking, but a good read anyway.

11/22/63: What it is about

Jake Epping, a 35-year old high school teacher, is asked by hamburger concession owner Al to go back in time to stop president Kennedy from being assassinated. Al has found a portal to the past in his store room. He is too ill himself to make any more journeys into the past (although he’s been there many times) and so he hopes Jake will do this for him. Every trip, however long it takes in the past, only lasts two minutes in the current time.

Before he makes up his mind, a mature student tells him about a horrific incident in which his father killed most of his family. Jake decides to interfere in this incident which happened in 1958, the year that the portal leads to.  Then he waits until 1963 to try and stop the Kennedy assassination. But while waiting, he falls in love.

11/22/63: What I thought

I enjoyed this book a lot. I loved the 1950s feel. It was clear that King had spend time researching the details to make this a convincing story.

The first 100 or so pages were a bit slow, but then the story took off. There were some slow bits in the middle too. At least, Jake spends several years seeking out Lee Harvey Oswald and making plans to stop him from murdering Kennedy. This I found a little boring at times. Too much focus was given on this. I enjoyed the love story with Sadie much more.

The book felt a bit disjointed at times because of the different story lines. The result of Jake’s visit to the past was surprising and could maybe have been expanded on a little more.

But overall, this was a very good read with a great feel for the time.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I got this book: for review from Simon & Schuster for the Indie Lit Awards.

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 850

First published: 2011

Genre: science fiction

The Stephen King Project
IndieLitAwards

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