The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult
By Laurel Brodzinsky, Courier Staff Writer
Lev Grossman’s novel, The Magicians, would feel familiar to any avid fantasy reader. A boy discovers he has a talent for magic and goes to a magic school. He has extraordinary adventures in secret lands, and lives in a segregated magical society. Trauma happens, but he goes on to have more adventures. The book has many references to Harry Potter, Narnia, and other fantasy standards, but it also has something more.
The Magicians uses sex, drugs, alcohol, and depression to create a feeling of misery, listlessness and sorrow over the loss of innocence not usually emphasized in fantasy. The characters here are normal people who make normal mistakes, they are not heroes off to save the world, stand up for truth and virtue, and have the good guys never lose anything. People looking for the easy get away of an easy to read fantasy book will not find it in The Magicians- most likely you will feel depressed and empty at the end.
Quentin Clearwater is a remarkably smart boy growing up in Brooklyn, and feels like his life is missing something, because he is never happy. He is devoted to a series of children’s fantasy books set in the magical land of Fillory, and the promise of a yet undiscovered manuscript of a new Fillory book leads Quentin to Brakebills, a private college for magic.
Clearwater hopes magic will fill the void inside him, but is disappointed by magic, his girlfriend Alice, and the few friends he makes. While there, Quentin manages to awake an evil Beast because of a practical joke, is transformed into a goose, and plays magical chess, the Brakebills Quidditch. His college and post-college life is full of inebriated experimentation and partying until an unexpected guest shows up at a dinner party claiming to have discovered a portal to Fillory.
Quentin and his friends embark on an adventure to Fillory, where they become pawns in a battle of good and evil, and the rules of stories.
I enjoyed the novel as a whole, though it has its share of critics. I thought it was an engaging story- the characters and situations resonated with me, as well as the themes of alienation, disillusionment and depression. I didn’t like Quentin, but I knew how he felt, why he acted the way he did, and felt he represented all feelings of wanting an easy way out and all the bad choices one could make bundled into one unfortunate person. To readers, he can be very frustrating and make you want to shout at him for being so stupid, but in reality we sometimes wish we could do that to our past selves.
Those who wish for more character development would perhaps have been more satisfied if, at the end, instead of Quentin’s friends returning to rescue him from a mundane world he had taken the initiate himself to regroup and led the others. Quentin’s failure to take initiative may lead readers to believe he is one-sided and lack personality, but that is not the case. He just, like many his age, tends to focus on only one thing at a time.
While I recognize “The Magicians” has plenty of flaws, I would still recommend it to young adults for a fascinating read.