Thursday, August 2, 2012

Review: The Magicians

It's easier to describe what The Magicians is not, than what it actually is.

It's not Harry Potter, where young children enter a high-fantasy magic school. There is a magic school, to be sure, and Brakebills has more than a little Hogwarts about it, but there are no kids here. The students are college-age, enjoying a mixture of terrifying academic work and delayed adolescence, progressing into laissez-faire hedonism. Quentin and the cast of characters surrounding him are caught between a magical world which demands extraordinary precision, and the reality that all-powerful magic which must be hidden away is quite possibly useless.

This coming-of-age tale is interwoven with a fictional set of novels loosely modeled after The Chronicles of Narnia, a land called Fillory in which good and evil are clear, and the final victor is of little doubt. However informed by Fillory the world of The Magicians is, it is much darker, to the point of amorality. There is good and evil but the students frequently have little care for their alignment between the two. To be frank, I flat-out hated Quentin for the majority of the book.

Grossman's writing style takes some getting used to. The prose is simple, direct, with little attempt to develop a voice. The pacing is all over the map. Rather than the rigid, "by the years" formula of Potter or the Percy Jackson novels, the entirety of Quentin's academic career is on display. More to the point, entire years can fly by in mere paragraphs, while the succulent plot points are dwelled on to full effect. This is much like our own lives when viewed in retrospect: days which blur over time, but the key events, the fundamental character-forming moments, those are the things burned into memory.

I wanted to put the book down. I wanted to give up. I wanted to kill Quentin, erase him from my memory, but something about this world kept sucking me in. The payoff was well worth it. The character arc, the plot developments, and everything about the book is off-kilter, but I can't wait to go deeper into Grossman's world.

4 Stars.

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