Wednesday, October 12, 2011

ARCHIVED REVIEW: The Magicians (1/4/11)

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." 
— Lev Grossman (The Magicians)

From the back of the book: "Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A high school math genius, he's secretly fascinated with a series of children's fantasy novels set in a magical land called Fillory, and real life is disappointing by comparison. When Quentin is unexpectedly admitted to an elite, secret college of magic, it looks like his wildest dreams may have come true. But his newfound powers lead him down a rabbit hole of hedonism and disillusionment, and ultimately to the dark secret behind the story of Fillory. The land of his childhood fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined..."

This was an excellent book for both die-hard, old-school honor-and-glory fantasy and for the modern urban fantasy cynics. It is stuffed to the gills with winks and nods to Narnia, Harry Potter,and a little sprinkling of the Wizard of Oz. Its both an homage to and a satire of these idyllic fantasy worlds. It examines the real consequences of what would happen if you take a depressed angsty teenager and give him incredible power, and then set him out in the world where there are no epic battles to fight, no quest to follow.

The Brakebills school section is charming and intricate. Magic is hard and complex and yet there is still the college atmosphere of late night drinking with a tight gang of friends, and warm days of doing nothing. There are dark threads that hint at the corrosion and danger to come, but the Brakebills part could be its own separate book.

The post-college section feels like Hemingway, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, about the now-graduated students, a group of young people who have all the power and money in the world but no direction. They inevitably spiral into sex, drugs, and self-loathing.

And then suddenly, out of the blue, one of them discovers their way into Fillory: the magical land of their childhood dreams. They will go on a quest and becomes kings and queens! Surely it will make all their hurt and meanness melt away, and they will become their better selves in the presence of Ember and Umber, the magical ram gods (Aslan in sheep's clothing). But Fillory is not like the books. Well, it is, but think about the paragraph long description of a battle in the Chronicles of Narnia, and what it is actually like to be there, to kill something, and to watch your friends die. Reading about it is a lot easier than doing it.

In Fillory, Quentin has to go through a crucible of spirit, and in the end, you are not sure if he is truly whole or healed, or even if he is on the right track. But you hope so, and you want to see what happens next.

Luckily, the sequel comes out this summer!

If you liked this, you may like:
The Chronicles of Narnia
Harry Potter
The Wizard of Oz

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