Title: The Magicians
Author: Lev Grossman
Publication Date: 8/11/09
How I Found It: It's on every "If you liked Harry Potter..." list
Date Completed: 11/27/15
Summary: After being recruited to a secret college to study magic, Quentin journeys through a less-unique-than-you'd-expect university experience and into a life where he struggles to reconcile what he's learned with practicality.
What I Thought: Anyone who has searched for a follow-up to the immensely popular Harry Potter series has likely heard of Lev Grossman's Magicians series, of which this is the first installment. I was definitely skeptical going in, not expecting to find much correlation between Grossman's work and Rowling's. To my surprise, the description "Harry Potter for adults" seemed increasingly apt. It's Harry Potter, but in a world where the battle for right and wrong is increasingly murky and, as often happens in real life, few characters seem worthy of our adoration.
Don't get me wrong - this work is unique enough. Grossman clearly drew some of his inspiration from Rowling's work, along with that of C.S. Lewis and the Narnia stories. What he did, however, was take that inspiration and bring a cynicism to it, eliminating the charm and delight of the other works. Grossman wants you to see the gritty. He doesn't want you to think magic is, well, magical. He wants you to see that those who are gifted with the ability for magic or to travel between worlds are just as flawed and imperfect as the rest of us, perhaps more so at times because of their power.
At times, the college activities (drinking, sex, etc.) of the Brakebills students irritated me and seemed far from most of the magical worlds I had entered. The further I got into the book, though, the more I realized the depravity of the students and their journies into drug-addled lethary were all a part of the image Grossman was trying to project. None of the characters are particularly likeable, and I fully believe that is on purpose. I did not necessarily dislike them, but I found them irritating and irrational at times.
The magical world Grossman presents is enchanting - no pun intended - if not particularly original on that account. Many of his plot tools feel familiar if you are a fantasy reader. I do not disparage him for that; there are only so many unique ideas in the world. He had enough original content ot keep me interested and involved. One thing I will say, however, is that it took him a long time to get where he was going with the plot. Quentin and his classmates putz around Brakebills for most of the book without ever doing that much. Sure, things happen and time passes, but Grossman hops in and out of their story. Once you reach the crux of the book, in the post-college years, you realize how he was setting you up for the real story. The set up just was so long and encompasses most of the book. Still, the set up was enjoyable.
This book, and series, I presume, is absolutely not for everyone. It's dark and disappointing at times (not in execution, but in deferred hope that the characters will turn out to be good people making good, well-motivated decisions). Think of it as the Breaking Bad of fantasy novels. The story is not about redemption or the triumph of good vs. evil. Rather, it's about the process and human nature and how we fail. That approach only made it feel so fresh for me. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.
Will I Re-Read: I wouldn't be surprised
A Reduced Review: The fantasy worlds we loved as children are twisted and darkened in this college-age look at magical education and experience.