The Magicians by Lev Grossman

August 28, 2009
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The Magicians
Lev Grossman

Hardcover/416 pages
ISBN: 0-670020559
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". . . an intricate and complex story with a simple theme . . ."

The Magicians: A discontented, talented, but unfocused Harry Potter goes to college – sort of.

Julia walks best friends Quentin and James to a college interview and leaves them at the door. Inside, Quentin and James find their interviewer dead and call 911. One of the paramedics, a beautiful woman, hands Quentin a manila envelope with his name on it and inside he finds a copy of a sixth Fillory novel, one that was never published, and a piece of paper that the wind snatches out of his hands. He chases the paper along the cold Brooklyn streets and ends up struggling through a hedge into a sun-washed green expanse of lawn. Quentin has arrived at Brakebills College of Magic. His life will never be the same.

Quentin Coldwater, amateur magician, wanders into a world where magic is not practiced sleight of hand but real, magic that can be measured by physics and science. As a young man who keeps looking for the next best thing and finding he already has it and yet looking still, Quentin Coldwater is a wimp with occasional flashes of gumption and passion. He floats along on the tides of life waiting, always waiting, in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. He is no Harry Potter. There is no doom hanging over his head and no powerful dark wizard to battle – yet.

Quentin is a complex, facile and infuriatingly frustrating character that walks numbly through a world of possibility and beauty never satisfied with what he has. He is not willing to plumb the depths of his intelligence and ability. Still, Quentin is mesmerizing, and The Magicians is an intricate and complex story with a simple theme: Be careful what you wish because you are about to get it.

Grossman is no less frustrating because he deliberately leaves the tag ends of information dangling. That is not to say that The Magicians or Grossman are disappointing—quite the reverse. Lev Grossman is a wizard of words and worlds deftly weaving a spell with familiar tools. The story is familiar: A youth trembling on the verge of adulthood unsure of the worth of learning and his path. It’s a situation many young adults raised on a diet of fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons face in the 21st century.

If you’re expecting a more adult version of Harry Potter, you’re out of luck. If, however, you’re willing to follow wimps and slackers sharing moments of brilliant insight and brutal honesty between bouts of drunkenness, fights, magic and sex, The Magicians is where you’ll find it. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll leave Grossman’s tightly crafted world with a growing sense of wonder and a question: What is Quentin’s discipline?

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell


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