The Magicians: Book Review

Reading is such a wonderful escape. A good book can transport you to new worlds, teach you new things, and generally broaden your world view in the most entertaining way. But who has time to read? 

My friend Jessica is the most voracious reader I know. Whether from paper, e-reader, or audio, Jess can consumer multiple books in any given week. She puts me to shame. Cassandra has taken to listening to audio books while she's doing her graphic design so she can get through a lot more "reading" than I do. Writers can't really listen to other words while trying to construct words that make sense. :) Regardless, I still love to read and try to carve out time for at least one book a month - which covers my book club selections if nothing else.

So, when I go on vacation I use that time to hunker down and read a lot. For some reason, television doesn't hold the same interest when I'm away - probably because I don't have TiVo - so I take my escapism elsewhere. This trip I read a book called The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

It's an interesting thing when an author borrows so heavily from other, well-known works. The Magicians (and the sequel, The Magician King) have been rightly called Harry Potter for grown-ups. But I'd throw in a giant dollop of Narnia on top of that.

The basic premise is this, Quentin Coldwater is a geeky, out-of-place high-school senior who is mysteriously whisked away to Brakebills College (a magical college, of course) to take an entrance exam. Upon being accepted, Quentin's world opens up and he begins his life away from home - including all the drinking, sex, and experimentation that most college students experience. This is why it's NOT a book for your kids. :) There are, as you'd expect, the requisite oddball teachers, friends and enemies and frienemies

In addition to the on-campus, magical adventures, there are also the trips home to the "straight" world and lots of musings in Quentin's head that sound like the musings of any 18-21 year old who's trying to find himself. There are spells to be learned and tasks to be undertaken. There are crushes and heartbreaks and friendships that will last a lifetime. And, on top of all this, there's the constant reference to a set of children's books that are about a place called Fillory (read: Narnia). The correlations between Fillory and Narnia are sort of ridiculously obvious - way more so than the correlations between Brakebills and Hogwarts. But the books play an important part in the development of these kids and ultimately in their post-college future. 

The reviews are very mixed. I noticed that a lot of people got annoyed with Quentin, which I found amusing. To me, he was no different than my son at that age - the setting was just different. He's full of angst and unrest. He's completely unsure of his future and often frustrated, angry, or just stupid in his decision making. I think a lot of people weren't crazy about how similar it was to Harry Potter and/or Narnia but, frankly, that didn't bother me much. The fact that the kids were older made the entire tone more adult. And it's probably important to note that, unlike Potter, there's little time spent on how the magic actually works except in the vaguest sort of way. The story is more about the characters and their growth.

Regardless of the "faults" in the story, the story-telling is solid. Grossman paints a vivid picture of Brakebills, the magic, and the adventures. He's captured truth in Quentin and the rest of the characters. And, despite the length of the book, it's a fast(ish) and engrossing read. 

I've got about 20 pages left in the book but the big twist at the end has just been revealed and it was interesting. I'm already looking forward to reading the sequel and will post a review when I'm done with it. 

Happy reading!

- Alex 

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