Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Magicians

Lev Grossman is Time magazine's book critic, and one of the people responsible for their "Top 100 Novels of all Time" list.  He is also the author of The Magicians, which is a fantastic read and right up there with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell for anyone looking for magic in the post-Potter world.

Quentin Coldwater is our protagonist, a lonely and somewhat depressed high school senior in Brooklyn.  He's extremely bright and something of a nerd, with a penchant for card tricks and wandering nickels and the like.  One of his run-of-the-mill ivy league college entrance exams is derailed by the unexpected death of the interviewer.  And through a series of completely unexpected events, Quentin finds himself instead accepting admittance to the super-secret magical college of Brakebills.

Quentin is obsessed with the magical land of Fillory - the setting of a series of fantasy novels that all his classmates at Brakebills have clearly also read.  Even while pursuing his magical education in the real world, he has the nagging feeling that Fillory is also real, and that he is meant to go there.  To be clear, Brakebills is not just Hogwarts for college kids.  Or, well, maybe it is.  The tragedies are bigger, the magic is darker, and here the students drink, smoke and screw.  Quentin is coming of age with a whole bunch of other young magicians, being tempted by drugs, discovering the opposite sex and trying to understand magic's true role in the larger world. 

The Magicians borrows a great deal from fantasy masterpieces from Harry Potter's world to Narnia and Middle Earth to Dungeons & Dragons (which I never played, but the references are obvious).  Grossman sometimes parodies these predecessors, but it is clear he has his own story to tell.  Quentin and the other leading characters are all complex and believable, with families and backstories and struggles.  The last two sections speed up almost too quickly - it's impossible to put down and the ending blew my expectations out of the water.  It's fantastic.  I love the writing.  Do yourself a favor and read it.

Next up: Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a post-apocalyptic Pulitzer Prize winner known for being, well, rather depressing.

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