The second installment in the Magicians trilogy is a weightier affair than the first book, focusing on themes of loss, mental illness, and the mysterious underpinnings of magic. The book spends a lot of time with Julia, a minor character from the first novel who was denied entry to the school for magicians that became home for Quentin and the other main characters. We witness her growing obsession to learn magic by more nontraditional means, as well as the toll it exacts on her mental health.
The book alternates between Julia’s story and a more traditional quest-y storyline that you would find in most fantasy novels. The quest seems a bit undercooked, but Grossman’s portrayal of Julia is both beautiful and heartbreaking for reasons that become clear in the final pages. The prose can be clever bordering on smug; Grossman wants the reader to know that he is deconstructing the ponderous formalism of the genre and much of his writing is quite funny, but it eventually feels like he’s showing off.
I’m tempted to begin the third installment immediately, but I think I’ll let this story sit with me for a while before returning to Fillory. In the meantime, I should really check out the Syfy series based on the books.