Im just not sure Grossman got it with this one. The story just seemed to constantly be missing something. It seemed to have a lot there to offer us but somewhere along the line something failed to deliver.
Spoilers ahead. But let me admit ahead that a lot of time passed between my reading of The Magicians and my reading of this. It may account for a few of the comments below.
On the surface, Julia’s story offered to be truly fascinating. The premise of an underside to the magical community was interesting, and Grossman did an excellent job making it seem properly shady with a drugy parallel. But something about just felt off. Julia seemed to have something of an inferiority complex regarding Quintin, and this just never seemed to be explored in any significant detail. Julia just seemed so very entitled to magic, and I never really understood why she felt that way. To me it seemed almost as absurd as if I felt entitled to speed because I knew Hussain Bolt. That she become obsessed by it because she knew it existed and she knew it was being kept from her was certainly one motivating factor that made sense. But at some point she simply had to realize that if she didn’t get accepted into Brakebills, there certainly must have been a reason for it. One wonders if she would have had the same reaction to any universities that did not accept her.
The way Julia’s story ended also didn’t seem to work for me. The occurrences were fine, but it felt as if so much detail had been left out of it. To conclude it with a rape scene and not give us any of the information that came after that seems a bit odd. Particularly in consideration of the fact that moments before Julia’s terrible ordeal, she comes to the conclusion that she finally has found happiness with her French connections. She had the right quantity of human interaction she needed to be happy. And then it was suddenly and violently taken away from her. Rather, it was fragmented, and though we know that after what happens it will never be the same, I still felt that there were so many questions left unanswered between the rape and her coming to Filloroy. What happened to the surviving members of her group? Why did she fall out with them, or did they fall out with her? How did she become so bleak towards humanity? Sure, something came out of her during the rape, but was meant to be taken literally? I’d say no, and if it was I’d say it reeked of poor writing. If it was literal, then why did Julia ever bother with Filloroy and the people there to begin with? But more importantly, what happened after the rape? To retreat within one’s self is one reaction, but it seems strange to brush it off as if it was the only response. And particularly considering that she experience another kind of loss at the same moment, I would say she might have been more attached to the other survivors. Either could work as an explanation, but you must write it out for it to have any meaning.
And of Quintin’s story? This whole books seems to dispel whatever lessons Quintin should have learned by the end of the last book (the fine line between boredom, adventure, and consequences), which seems a bit strange at best, particularly considering that this book is little more than Quintin’s see-sawing back and forth between adventure and the desire to be home. One could say that maybe Quintin still has not learned that lesson during this book, but the theme certainly seemed much more masterfully handled in the previous book. What’s worse, the resolution of Quintin’s story feels arbitrary at best; he gets home and is quickly banished for no seemingly good reason. That Quintin takes Julia’s punishment without knowing what it is a bit foolish, and that he seems to justify it seems worse (had he been accepted to Harvard and she not, if that caused a downward spiral would that have been his fault as well?)
Also, if Quintin was ever told what Julia went through, I do not recall it.