Quentin Coldwater has what he always wanted, he's a king of Fillory. He no longer needs to read about the Chatwins and their adventures because he is part of the story now. Sure, it means hunting trips, staging tournaments and leading a life of excess but that's the life of a king right? The problem of getting everything you ever wanted is that it gets old fast. Quentin decides to go on a small adventure to collect taxes from a far flung island for something to do and it leads to the quest he didn't know he wanted. Quentin only wanted a break from the mundane role of being King but quickly finds himself on a quest to save magic altogether. It's a clear lesson of be careful what you ask for.
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.