An easy assumption is that the story in the sequel to The Magicians by Lev Grossman would start where the first book ends, in particular since it ended with some sort of cliff-hanger, but it seems that Grossman avoids the obvious whenever possible. Instead, The Magician King begins somewhat later with Quentin Coldwater as a well established co-ruler of a magic kingdom.
Quentin is bored and is thus looking for a quest, since quests are what heroes spend their time on, and he wants to be the hero of the story. He rather arbitrarily refurbishes a ship and sets sail to the Outer Island to collect a small amount of tax money. This is actually the starting of a complex quest which whole point is unknown for a large part of the story.
The magician king also tells the tragic story about the one who did not pass the entrance tests to Brakebills, the magic academy from the first book, and who learns to perform magic anyway in potentially the hardest way possible. This one is another co-ruler of the magic kingdom, but appears to broken as a human.
It turned out that I liked the book. This was a bit unexpected because I was not particularly fond of the first book, and started reading this one only thanks to the cliff-hanger ending of the first one. The story is significantly more coherent and it felt as if the characters have matured – not in the sense that they are older (they are of course), but that they are more realistically described. They are more human, and in some cases more unhuman. Now they have personalities and not just personality sketches. The aspects I liked of the first book, its originality and its unpredictability, are still present making this book an enjoyable read for me.
Now I am curious how many other cases there are of books that I dislike which have sequels that I like. There may be many potential favourite readings hiding behind a poor first book. Interesting…