Monday, August 15, 2011

Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Publisher's Summary:
A thrilling and original coming-of- age novel about a young man practicing magic in the real world.
Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he's still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.
He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin's fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.
At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, The Magicians boldly moves into uncharted literary territory, imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions. Lev Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren't black and white, love and sex aren't simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.

If you pick up this novel expecting a redux of Harry Potter you will be disappointed, not because Lev Grossman's The Magicians isn't an outstanding novel with 'magical' characters and an entertaining journey - because it truly is - the disappointment would come because comparing Harry Potter and The Magicians is much like comparing a carrot to a mango. They're both orange and tasty but they are hardly interchangeable produce. Admittedly I read Harry Potter greedily - I first read each novel in one long consuming 'vacation day' serving. I then went back and listened to all of the audiobooks. Don't mistake me, I liked Harry Potter - but I had the great advantage to having read them as an adult, from that perspective. Sure I somewhat impatiently waited for the next book to come out, hitting Costco for the hardback during waking hours (not 12:01am at Barnes and Noble).

There are some themes in the novels that are similar (namely magic - Hogwarts/Breakbeak school and the shock of discovering that "you" are a wizard/magician), there are references to Harry Potter as a unit of fiction (Quiddich was mentioned for example) but very quickly that's where similarities end.

The Harry Potter series had some dark moments and a couple of scenes that would make a 12 year old blush a little, but the genre is firmly youth/young adult oriented. Lev Grossman's The Magicians is firmly in the young adult/adult genre, with content I'd classify as not for young readers or listeners. I've heard the phrase "Harry Potter for grown-ups", but that's wrong too - and unfair to both novels (series).

The Magicians is a compelling and entertaining novel from start to finish. At the same time poking a bit of fun at fictional magic books while it becomes this fantastic tale depicting MAGIC as possible. Quinten Coldwater is likable and honest - his faults and biases are out there for all to see. The characters who orbit around and with him are equally compelling in their humanity - even as I picture them as college grads who are lost in the world and decide to backpack around Europe for a summer (obviously one must replace 'Europe' for Fillory).

Fillory is almost certainly inspired by Narnia - one of my favorite novels (again a series) of my childhood - I have fond memories of crawling off  for hours into my reading nook with my tattered C.S. Lewis books (and later with the SUPER book that contained all seven books under one hardcover with Lucy, Susan, Edmond, Peter and Aslan.  I also fondly remember at least one heated over-night debate in college that discussed what the proper order was to read the Chronicles....ahhhhh, good times.

Narration of "The Magicians" was by Mark Bramhall - who did tend to read more slowly than I wished to digest the novel. I easily fixed this by listening at 2x speed which delivered my content in a more satisfying pace. I did find that the novel ended somewhat abruptly - which I found easy enough to forgive knowing that I had more Fillory and Quinten to follow in the series.

There is a new novel out (release date 8/9/2011) by Lev Grossman entitled "The Magician King" continuing on Quinten's journey in Fillory, I already have The Magician King on my iPhone and plan to start it tomorrow morning.

The Magicians was written by Lev Grossman and published by Penguin Audiobooks. The Magicians has a runtime of 17 hours 24 minutes and an audible release date of 8/11/2009.

P.S. - I loved this quote from George RR Martin (author of Game of Thrones - a novel I still can't get into even after many attempts):
"The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea." 

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