Although it wasn't a perfect book, this is a worthy follow-up to The Magicians. There is advancement in Quentin's story, and he's actually growing up and being less of a putz. I did like Quentin more in this book, but he'll never be a favorite hero of mine. Actually, none of the lead characters are especially likable, to be honest. Julia has more of a POV in this book, and I found that I had a violent dislike for her in some aspects of the story, and mild sense of sympathy in the others. Overall, I will never be a big fan of her.
One of my big problems with Julia is that she continued to blame Quentin for her misfortunes and was unwilling to accept any fault for her own choices. Yes, she suffered from depression, but that shouldn't be an excuse to abuse and hate others who don't measure up to overweening sense of superiority. Yes, he should have spoken up for her so she could get another chance at Brakebills, but it was her fault she didn't take her exam seriously. Julia has a sense of mental superiority and a general antipathy for people that I found off-putting. She might be extremely intelligent and had become a top level magician (admittedly making huge sacrifices for that), but she didn't seem to learn how to treat others with respect. Having said that, what she suffered was beyond horrible, even if, in a strange way, it helped her to achieve what she wanted. In the end, it turned out that she gave up everything for something that turned out not to be the path to true happiness. And in a strange way, Quentin turns out to be a true friend to her in a way that she never was to him.
Grossman is a very good writer. His imagery and descriptive flare is incredible. I feel that he suffers in writing characters that are sympathetic. It's all and good to keep a reader reading because of witticisms and clever ideas, along with entrancing imagery, but many people read books because want a hero to root for. Quentin did become more of what I consider a hero, but he has some negative traits that make his armor look dull. Julia has a personality that's more like the Wicked Witch than Dorothy. How about a happy medium?
This series is not for readers who find bad language and who get offended at an acerbic and hypercritical view at traditional values. As with the first book, attitude that anything goes as far as sex and drinking and doing drugs can be hard to swallow. Also that mental superiority of the characters gets pretty old.
Why do I keep reading these books? Because I am in love with contemporary fantasy, and Grossman has a very interesting point of view on that subject. The vantage point of the hedge magicians' world was highly fascinating. Grossman takes the world-building to the next level without the narrow confines of the Brakebills system, and he doesn't limit the setting to good old Fillory, which was nice. His explanation for mythical creatures in the modern, non-magical world was a nice touch.
I wasn't too fond of the direction he took with investigating paganism as a way to achieve a higher level of magical ability and that event that resulted was really hard to read (or in my case listen to). Some readers who have an issue with rape will want to be very careful with this book. I question was that a necessary choice and I wonder why that seemed to be the way to deal tragedy in a heavy dose for one of the characters instead of another type of plot device. I also question the anti-climactic conclusion of this novel as far as Quentin's hero's journey. Having said that, I will pick up the finale in the near future.
As an aside, the SyFy Channel production of The Magicians is very good. It has much of what might appeal to readers, and is pretty faithful to the book overall.
I will keep getting the audiobooks for these because they are really good to listen to. This has a different narrator than the first book, and I think I liked him better. He was less snide-sounding. With these characters, one doesn't need more of a snide, I'm better than everyone tone.