The Magician’s Land

magicianslandcoverWritten by Lev Grossman; published 2014.

The Magician’s Land is the final book in a trilogy written by Lev Grossman. I read and reviewed the first two books a few years ago (The Magicians and The Magician King) and loved them both. I was thrilled to finish up the trilogy and was even more thrilled by how well it finished.

The Magicians trilogy unashamedly rips off two of the big fantasy stories, Harry Potter and Narnia. We first meet Quentin Coldwater as a brilliant and cynical teenager who is invited to attend Brakebills, a college in upstate New York that teaches magic to the best of the best of American students. The second half of The Magicians takes place in Fillory (a Narnia-like fantasy land), as Quentin and his friends discover Fillory, save it and become its rulers. The Magician King takes place primarily in Fillory where Quentin and his old friend Julia are needed to save Fillory from the loss of magic. The end of the book finds Quentin banished from Fillory and sent back to Earth. It’s a bittersweet ending and a bit of a cliffhanger- Quentin has been obsessed with Fillory since he was a child. What is he to do now that he no longer has it?

So The Magician’s Land begins about 6 months after the end of The Magician King. Quentin is back on Earth and, after a short stint as a Brakebills professor, agrees to help steal a briefcase with ties to Fillory and the Chatwin children that first discovered the magical land. It’s a excellent book, and probably the best of the trilogy, that wraps up the story lines of all the major characters. I know that many readers found Quentin and his friends to be obnoxious, selfish, and self-absorbed, but that was actually one of my favorite things about this series. It gets a little boring when fantasy heroes tend to be either lone wolf types with a heart of gold or else they are nobodies that actually turn out to be super special and the only ones that can save the world. But here we’ve got characters that are just as messed up and fallible as, well, normal, real life people. This was the first book I’ve read in a long time that I wanted to keep reading until I finished it.

I would love to hear what other people thought of this book or the entire trilogy!


The Magicians on Syfy

Exciting news!

I’m a big fan of Lev Grossman’s books The Magicians and The Magician King. They’re both really wonderful, dark books and take an adult look at some of children’s fantasy favorite topics (learning magic, traveling to other worlds). As The Magician King ended with somewhat of a cliffhanger (kind of?), I’ve been looking forward to the release of the third book in the trilogy for some time. And I found out recently that it’s coming! The Magician’s Land will be officially released on August 5 and is already available for pre-ordering on Amazon.


In additional really good news related to the Magicians trilogy, the first book, The Magicians, has been picked up by Syfy to make a series. Hooray! Apparently this has happened before with Fox and nothing really came of it but this time it seems pretty serious. So here’s hoping! This could be a great show if done well. Read the article on acquiring the pilot here.

And if you haven’t yet, you might try and get your hands on a copy of Grossman’s short story “The Girl in the Mirror”. I’m sure it won’t be necessary to enjoying the plot of the The Magician’s Land, but extra back story never hurts, right? I know it can be found in the Dangerous Women compilation of stories edited by George R. R. Martin, which is full of stories from other fantastic authors. Check your library for it!

And it never hurts to add: Lev Grossman is very active on twitter and always posts information there for his fans. He’s worth following.

The Magician King

By Lev Grossman; Sequel to The Magicians.

I recently read The Magicians and loved it. I had high expectations for The Magician King and they were fully met. Both of these books are completely different than most fantasy. Like I mentioned in my review of The Magicians, these books are a bit depressing. But I think they seem depressing because they are so realistic and that is what makes them unusual. If you haven’t read The Magicians, I would recommend not reading this post, not because of any spoilers (although there probably will be some), but just because I don’t think you’ll really understand what I’m talking about.

The Magicians ended with main character Quentin invited to go back to magical Fillory and become one of the rulers along with friends Eliot, Janet and former classmate/crush Julia. All goes well until one day, when out on a hunt, something happens that pushes Quentin to want a Quest. He misses his first chance but a second presents itself soon after so he and Julia sail off to the far East of Fillory. After a few adventures, they come across a golden key; a golden key that unlocks a door in the air and sends Quentin and Julia back to Earth.

And this is where the story gets interesting. Quentin and Julia are now stranded on Earth with no way of getting back to Fillory. And even if they can get back, will it even matter? Fillory time moves differently than Earth time and there’s no telling how long they will be away. During their attempts to find a way home, we also get to see some of Julia’s history. Julia never went to Brakebills although she took the entrance test. And the attempt to erase the memory of that failed. So Julia becomes a hedge witch, someone who learns magic through an underground system of safe houses and skill levels. And it costs her almost more than she has to give.

Julia and Quentin do get back to Fillory and fortunately only a year has gone by in Fillory for three Earth days. They come back to find Eliot in the midst of a quest to find the seven gold keys of Fillory’ the only thing that can save Fillory from imminent destruction. We get a tantalizing glimpse of Quentin as a true Magician King before the end of the quest and eventually Fillory is saved and the story ends as it should. Perhaps not as happily ever after as most readers are used to fantasy stories ending, but this ending was much more satisfying.

I don’t know if Lev Grossman has any plans to write more stories about Quentin but I hope he does. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how good these books are and how much I like them. I would highly recommend them both.

The UK cover. I’m putting it here because I like it a lot better than the US version seen at the top.

The Magicians

Written by Lev Grossman, published 2009.

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.

Moving on From Harry Potter

So maybe you love Harry Potter and are trying to find other books like it to read. Or maybe, like me, you were disappointed with the books and want to read something that is similar but better. Here are my suggestions.

Kids Save the World: A common characteristic of fantasy novels is that the hero is usually someone unexpected. In the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter is just an average boy until he gradually discovers that because of the actions of the evil Voldemort, only Harry can destroy Voldemort for good. Here are some of the books/series I really like where the hero(es) are just ordinary kids destined to save the world.

The Dark is Rising sequence: If you haven’t read these books yet you need to stop whatever you are doing and pick these up instead. Written by Susan Cooper, this five book award winning series follows the efforts of five children, one of which is the last of the Old Ones, who are fighting against the Dark. The individual books can be read alone or out of order (I personally started with the middle book and then went to the beginning) but you’ll eventually want to read them all. The entire series has an otherworldly feel to it that I don’t think I’ve gotten from any other series, especially not one that was theoretically intended for juvenile readers.

The Chronicles of Narnia: C.S. Lewis’ extremely popular books for children describe the adventures of various children who are brought into Narnia by Aslan. Technically Aslan is doing all the saving that needs to be done but that doesn’t mean that the children aren’t heroes too. I appreciate these books more now that I am older but I have always been in love with the movies that have been made. A great series for young children to grow up reading.

A Series of Unfortunate Events: Deliciously morbid and extraordinarily clever, this thirteen book series starts off slow but picks up steam by the end of the third book. The three Baudelaire children are orphaned at the beginning of the first book and then spend the rest of the series bouncing from inept guardian to inept guardian while also trying to save their considerable fortune from the evil Count Olaf. And while the Baudelaires aren’t trying to save the world, they are desperately trying to hold on to their world. It’s a fast read with a sly humor and while some parents may find it too dark for their young children, if you or your child can make it through Harry Potter, this should be no problem at all. Written by Lemony Snicket, pen name for Daniel Handler.

Magic in Real Life: One of the greatest appeals of the Harry Potter series and most other magical fantasy books is the idea that magic could be possible in real life. While us Muggles might never have the joy of using a wand and discovering our magical abilities, here are some books to take the sting off.

The Magicians: Written by Lev Grossman, The Magicians was touted as Harry Potter for grownups. Disclaimer: I have not yet read this book. It is actually sitting in my library book stack as I type this so I will theoretically be reading it within the next 3-6 weeks. (And I’ll probably write my thoughts here when I’m done.) But the book is about Quentin Coldwater who grew up reading and loving a fantasy series very similar to the Narnia books. And then Quentin is admitted to a very secret magical college in New York, where he finds that magic is not everything he thought it would be. There is also a sequel out now which I should hopefully be reading soon after I finish The Magicians.

The Rook: I read this book back in March and fell in love with it almost immediately. Here are my thoughts on it. It’s definitely more X-Men than Harry Potter but if you’re interested in people dealing with extraordinary and unusual powers, this book should appeal to you.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: This one is a bit of a stretch for Harry Potter fans, I think, but still worth the effort. I’ve only read this book once, and that was a few years ago, and my initial reaction was that I didn’t like the story. However I have been unable to forget the book since then. It’s set in Regency England (a period I have had a soft spot for since getting hooked on Jane Austen early) and follows the only two real magicians left in England. The details of the time period and the fairy tale/magical aspects are incredible and Susanna Clarke‘s book of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, is also well worth reading.

Epic Series: Perhaps your favorite part of Harry Potter was the sheer size and length of the series. Well you’re in luck. There’s nothing that fantasy authors love more than writing really long book series. Sometimes that’s a good  thing and sometimes it’s not. Here are a few examples of it working well.

A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones): There are five books so far in this series with another two books planned. That might change though since the series was initially begun to be a trilogy. This is definitely not a series for children and make sure you have a high tolerance for sex and violence before beginning. Despite that, it’s an extremely good series that has exploded in popularity recently thanks to the excellent HBO miniseries. Magic plays a part in the plot, as well as dragons and White Walkers, and it all revolves around the fight for the Iron Throne. Written by George R. R. Martin.

Alvin Maker: Another series by Orson Scott Card (who also wrote the excellent Ender’s Game and related books), the Alvin Maker series is an alternate history of early America. Many people in this America have certain “knacks”, much like magical powers. Alvin is the first Maker in a long time and the series follows his life from birth to young adulthood as he attempts to discover what he is meant to do with his extraordinary skills. This series may or may not be finished; I suppose another book will come if Card decides he has more to tell. It is, however, at a good ending spot.

The Black Company: I don’t remember how many books are in this series but they are all really good. I’ve heard a rumor that another book is forthcoming, which would be really interesting to see where Glen Cook took the story. The Black Company is a mercenary company that works for a wizard who is part of a group of wizards called the Taken. There’s fighting between the wizards, fighting between the company and fighting between the company and outside forces. Magic in various forms plays a huge part of this series and it is well worth reading. It’s also a fast read which is good considering how many books there are.

Honorable Mentions: Here are some books that are just generally superior to Harry Potter in every way.

Lord of the Rings: This is a given. I suppose it’s because the movies came out at about the same time but the two series have been compared to each other numerous times. No surprise there as Rowling unashamedly borrowed quite heavily from Tolkien. Can’t blame her for that since he is the master. A vastly superior book, Lord of the Rings should please any fantasy fan.

His Dark Materials trilogy: Written by Philip Pullman, this trilogy follows the two main characters of Lyra and Will as they travel between worlds fighting a conspiracy. I started reading this series when I was in middle school and never picked up on the religious controversy surrounding the book until the movie came out (which was terrible by the way, don’t see it). I still think it’s a great story despite that and should be entertaining for any fan of Harry Potter.

Some of these books have been surrounded by a fair amount of controversy. If you’re a parent looking for something for your kid, I would recommend that you read or skim the books yourself. If you don’t think it’s appropriate than don’t let your kid read it. Or if you like, let them read it and then use the books to start some interesting discussions.

I’d love to hear some other suggestions for similar books!