Friday, October 14, 2011

CBR III Review #22 - The Magicians by Lev Grossman

“For just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there's nothing else. It's here, and you'd better decide to enjoy it or you're going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.” 

The Magicians is the story of Quentin Coldwater, an exceptionally bright and incredibly unhappy teenager living in Brooklyn.  After an interview for Princeton takes a shocking turn, Quentin finds himself in a whole new world - one where magic is real, and he can use it.  He begins matriculating at Brakebills, a school for magicians, learning the skills and meeting the people that will shape him from then on.

Important to everything involved in this book is Quentin's love of a children's book series, called Fillory and Further.  A narrative shaped damn near identically to match The Chronicles of Narnia, these books were Quentin's favorite long after he "should" have outgrown them.  But now that he knows magic is real, could Fillory be real, too?

This book is wonderful.  I'm a big fan of fantasy lit, and this does a nice job of making it more contemporary.  Quentin lives in the world we know, but on the fringes is this whole other world, where magic is real, and possibilities are endless.  There is sex and profanity and the type of moral ambiguity and young adult malaise that are so commonplace now.  It felt very authentic and relatable, even if Quentin was often insufferable in his search to find something to make him happy.  Not all of the secondaries get real fleshing out (Janet, in particular, felt a little thin), but the ones that do are well realized (like Alice, wonderful Alice).  It also treats magic even more harshly than I think the later Harry Potter books do.  It is not only something you work at, that can hurt you, but over-reaching your power can get you killed.  This book does NOT shy away from violent descriptions, btw.  There is one particularly nasty sequence near the end that made me think of Sin City and turned my stomach.

A really great read that I totally recommend.  I picked up the sequel, The Magician King, immediately following my completion of this one and am already sucked back in.  I'm surprised this hasn't already been grabbed up for movie rights, as the material seems to lend itself to adaptation, but perhaps it just hasn't hit the right people yet.  Regardless, if you enjoy good fantasy, especially adult fantasy, this is well worth your time.

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