Grossman reprises some of the magic that made the first volume of this trilogy such a stand-out. In the first, an exercise at magic school necessitated that Quentin and his companion become swans. Here, they become whales, and Grossman's fertile imagination revels in the details of that reality the way a good actor embraces their imaginary circumstances. Grossman sometimes cannot resist flaunting his imaginary prowess, listing ideas that could could power whole scenes without ever developing them: a pen that writes only the truth, a player piano that improvises according to the listeners mood. He occasionally packs so many similes into a paragraph that things get silly. Volcanic eruptions are, for example, pimples, ejaculations, and vomiting prom queens. But mostly, Grossman creates dark entertainment for readers who live or have lived for literature as a refuge. References to Dickens, Shakespeare, and even Tom Stoppard, may render the less literate the outsiders at this party. Call it a revenge of sorts. Grossman has created a form I can only call real fantasy. That is to say, he writes of the world we really live in right now and in it, magical places and powers are a reality. Yet the magical world of his third novel is dying, and its royal family are maimed, misanthropic and self indulgent. This may be a fantasy, but in this one even magic is not enough.
Now all I can see is how simple he made everything sound. Reading the Fillory books you would think that all one had to do is behave honorably and bravely and all will be well. What a lesson to teach young children. What a way to prepare them for the rest of their lives.So writes Rupert Chatwin, a former king of Fillory, the real/imaginary world of the trilogy. He writes these words while preparing for battle in Tobruk during World War II
I, Rupert Chatwin, a king of Fillory, who rode a griffin against the armies of the Whispering King, who beat the Wight of the Est in single combat and broke his back, will fight the Germans in an obsolete Crusader tank full of lice and the stink of me and my comrades-in-arms, that has already leaked oil across half of northern Africa.
Even as an adult, Quentin is still peeling away layers of the onion. Age, position, and magic powers have not given him the answers. Out of his place of not knowing, this book gives us the real adventure of a man who tries to learn to use the powers he has.