This book very strongly reminded me of the opening lines of MTV’s Real World: “what happens when people stop being polite…and start getting real.” This book is Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia without the young adult editing. It is the harsh realities of being a late-teens/early twenties magician.The sex, death, drugs, cursing and general frivolity of that time of life are all over this book.
I of course planned to read this book but never got around to it, but then all of a sudden SyFy is making a series (IMDB link) and I had to move it forward! Thankfully I was able to get a copy from the library after a couple of weeks, now I just need the next two to come in on my Kindle and I’ll be all set to go!
Grossman pulls off the gloves and takes the young magicians on a fantastical journey through our world and the next, all while keeping a tongue-in-cheek view of this type of literature. And at the most basic levels, it is fantastic! I thought the Filory/Narnia similarities would get to me after a while, but they didn’t and that is most definitely a good thing. I did enjoy the intricacies of the neitherlands and how they got back and forth between the worlds, but am not sure if it really mattered that much to the story.
I think what drew me immediately into the book was the “if you missed your letter from Hogwarts” there is still a chance for you vibe. The idea that you could still become a magician at the collegiate level was incredibly appealing. Now someone needs to write the book for when you’re in your early 30s to middle-age and still have the chance to become a magician/wizard, then I’ll have the next step set up for me 😀
Overall, I really enjoyed Quentin, the protagonist. It didn’t hurt that I identified with his stand-offishness and his need to be near people but not necessarily wanting to be with them. Add in his reaction to his acceptance to Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, the magical school, and I was firmly in the team Quentin camp.
“Jesus, what the hell was he thinking? Of course he was going to sign. This was everything he’d always wanted, the break he’d given up on years ago. It was right in front of him. He was finally on the other side, down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass. He was going to sign the papers and he was going to be a motherfucking magician. Or what the hell else was he going to do with his life?” (40)
But, as I said it’s not the fun and games that Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia tend to leave us with. By the end of the novel, Quentin has experienced six years of magical training, adventure, love, loss and any number of other things. And frankly he’s a bit of a moody git (a la Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). He has just cause to be for part of it, but some of it he brought upon himself and is rather petty, but this line toward the end really stood out to me
“In different ways they had both discovered the same truth: that to live out childhood fantasies as a grown-up was to court and wed and bed disaster.” (397)
Although it is two jaded magicians talking, it’s great to know what happens in the final few pages sets up the next exciting book in the trilogy!
Recommendation: I cannot wait for book two and to see how SyFy adapts it. This idea of a gritty true tale of magicians and modern society is one I got on board with pretty fast and then all of the literary and nerd pop-culture references only made it that much better.
Opening Line: “Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed.”
Closing Line: “Loosening his tie with one hand, Quentin stepped out into the cold clear winter air and flew.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
Additional Quotes from The Magicians
“But there was a more seductive, more dangerous truth to Fillory that Quentin couldn’t let go of. It was almost like the Fillory books—especially the first one, The World in the Walls—were about reading itself. When the oldest Chatwin, melancholy Martin, opens the cabinet of the grandfather clock that stands in a dark, narrow back hallway in his aunt’s house and slips through into Fillory (Quention always pictured him awkwardly pushing aside the pendulum, like the uvula of a monstrous throat), it’s like he’s opening the covers of a book, but a book that did what books always promised to do and never actually quiet did: get you out, really out, of where you were and into somewhere better.” (7)
“He’d spent too long being disappointed by the world—he’d spent so many years pining for something like this, some proof that the real world wasn’t the only world, and coping with the overwhelming evidence that it in fact was. He wasn’t going to be suckered in just like that. It was like finding a clue that somebody you’d buried and mourned wasn’t really dead after all.” (37)
“One thing always confused Quintin about the magic he read about in books: it never seemed especially hard to do. There were lots of furrowed brows and long white beards and whatnot, but when it came right down to it, you memorized the incantation—or you just read it off the page, if that was too much trouble—you collected the herbs, waved the wand, rubbed the lamp, mixed the potion, said the words—and just like that the forces of the beyond did your bidding. It was like making salad dressing or driving stick or assembling Ikea furniture—just another skill you could learn. It took some time and effort, but compared to doing calculus, say, or playing the oboe—well, there really was no comparison. Any idiot could do magic.” (148-149)