Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Magicians: Like Quidditch, only real

Next on the list of Books I Wanted To Review In June But Didn't Get To: The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Everyone in the Columbia course this year got a copy.

If I were Twittering this review, it might go something like this:

Teen boy goes to magic school, graduates, goes to magical land 1st seen in fiction.

Problem: That wouldn't do a very good job of explaining this pretty cool book that, although it's published for adults, I think could easily cross over into the older teen market.

About the book: Angsty high school senior Quentin Coldwater has a most unusual experience when he goes for a college interview. The interview doesn't go as planned, but Quentin soon finds that he's got a college opportunity that's way beyond the Ivy League. After a series of headspinning tests, Quentin is admitted to Brakebills College, a school for magic in upstate New York. Brakebills is ten times as hard as any Ivy League school, and ten times as dangerous. Upon graduation, Quentin and his friends move to Manhattan, where their magical abilities enable them to lead a life of leisure. They also make the most exciting discovery of their lives: The magical land of Fillory, which they all know from the novels they read as children, is real. And they're going there.

Why you'll love it: It's escape-from-the-world fantasy for grownups. Grossman pokes fun at all the great children's lit that takes place in magical lands and incorporates it into Quentin's world. Quentin is hardly the most likeable character around (think Harry from Order of the Phoenix, with fewer caps), but I found myself so caught up in the Brakebills environment that I didn't care. Grossman does an amazing job with setting and imagining fantastic lands and creatures. He also twists the happily-ever-after. After graduation, Quentin and his friends aren't ready to begin adult lives; they're just as lost and confused as ever about what, if anything, to do with their futures. Love and sex are the source of sadness and anger rather than giddy happiness. Magic is not a cure-all for anything, though it does help maintain a certain lifestyle. This blend of urban and traditional fantasy, plus the beautiful cover, gives the book pretty wide appeal. (And you know it's got to be good if it's fantasy and I'm taking the time to recommend it.)

Lev Grossman's website || LA Books Examiner interview || review in the Washington Post Book World

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