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Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Magicians: A Novel
Quentin Coldwater is the top in his class. He's also in love with his best friend's girlfriend and unhappy at home. One day, he receives a manuscript that looks like an unpublished addition to his favorite fantasy series, set in a fantasy world called Fillory. In a roundabout way, this manuscript leads him through a portal to a school called Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy and Quentin thinks he's found the happiness he's always been searching for.

Let's get the obvious out of the way. I've seen the reviews that call this a Harry Potter rip-off. There's a boy in a school of magic, and a few intentional winks sent Harry's way, but this story felt like much more of an homage to Narnia than Hogwarts.

Since it fell into Narnia territory for me, I started reading it and looking for the "deeper meaning." I don't know if I was exactly supposed to but I did; I couldn't help it. It worked that way for me. If you're looking for it, there's all kinds of stuff about childhood dreams and disillusionment, how there are so many distractions in life that really don't help you in any way, and how you won't find happiness externally until you find it internally. One character tells Quentin, "I will take some chances. If you will, 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....{You} can sure as hell decide to be miserable."

All that stuff aside, this worked as a straight-forward fantasy novel too. There's magic and love and pranks and wizarding games and alternate worlds and quests and on and on. Readers looking for The Bad Guy will be disappointed though; there's no real baddie. If anything, Quentin's belief that he'll be happy if only he can do this or if he can go to this place are his real antagonists.

If you're still interested, you'll probably like this. Just go into it with an open mind and read it as its own book.

Read an excerpt

Lev Grossman on his website, Time magazine (where he's the book critic), his blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

7 comments:

  1. I've been curious about this one for a while now. Great review!

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  2. Your description reminded me of The Wizard Of Oz. Great review, I'd been curious about this one.

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  3. Funny, I was scrolling through my googlereader and read your sentence: " He's also in love with his best friend's girlfriend..." as "Jessie's Girl" is playing on my iTunes. Funny syncronicity!

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  4. i love the quote you included...it's so true. it's the same idea as waiting for the special occasion to use the 'good china'. every DAY is a special occasion!

    i don't read much fantasy but could be easily swayed to try something new! thanks for the review.

    -nat @book, line, and sinker

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  5. I've been wanting to read this book for some time, so it was great to read your thoughts on it. I'll have to pick up a copy soon! Have a great week! :)

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  6. Interesting. I've read the Charlie Bone series which reminds me of Harry Potter but for much younger kids. I'd be curious to read this one just to be able to recommend it as a fantasy book for someone who likes HP. :)

    I have an award for you over at my blog! www.teachmentortexts.com

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  7. I'm definitely interested. I don't mind if it has resemblances to the Harry Potter or the Narnia books, so long as it is mostly original.

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Thanks for taking the time to comment! Have a great day!

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