Imagine (and this probably won’t be too hard) that you grew up loving the Chronicle of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. Imagine you read the books over and over and dreamed that one day you too could go to Narnia just like the Pevensie children. Now imagine growing up and finding out that the Narnia books were true. No, I don’t mean that one morning you pop in a wardrobe and pop out in Narnia. I mean imagine that you found out the Pevensie children were real and that they really had gone to a magical land called Narnia and now you’re going too. Oh and also, you’re a magician.
That is essentially what Grossman’s The Magicians is about. I was initially drawn to the story for its Narnia elements but I had heard two things about the book that made me nervous. One, that it was Harry Potter for grown-ups (see my views on Harry here) and two, that it was really depressing. I finally just checked the book out and started reading. I ended up really enjoying it.
Quentin Coldwater is a stereotypical post-modern, big city teenager. He’s bored, cynical, and deeply unhappy with his life yet he’s incredibly intelligent and loves to do magic tricks. He ends up at Brakebills, the only magical college in North America where he spends the next five years learning how to be a real magician and not just one doing parlor tricks for friends. And eventually, he goes to Narnia. Except here, it’s called Fillory and Quentin grew up reading about the adventures of the Chatwin children and their adventures there. Fillory needs saving and Quentin and his friends are just the people for the job. Don’t want to be too spoilerish here so I’ll just leave it at that.
The book was a bit depressing. Quentin is unhappy when we meet him, unhappy at Brakebills, and unhappy in Fillory. He keeps thinking that the next thing, whatever that is, will make him happy and it doesn’t. Sex and drinking tends to be the way he drowns that sorrow. Also, magic in Grossman’s world isn’t particularly, well, magical. It’s almost like really complicated math that depends on the “Circumstances” such as weather, location, time of day, and a million other little things. Plus, a certain amount of will and maybe innate talent too. Honestly, the instructors at Brakebills aren’t entirely sure. Sometimes things work. Sometimes they don’t. So maybe it’s not so much like math.
This is actually one book where the Harry Potter comparison works. That is if Harry Potter was in college and written by somebody with some skill as an author. (Sorry Potter fans, I just really don’t like those books that much.) The time at Brakebills takes up most of the book and the friends Quentin makes there are his helpers and companions in what comes later.
Overall, I really liked the book. A sequel, called The Magician King, is already out and I will be reading it as soon as I can get my hands on it.