Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Put Harry Potter, Beverly Hills 90210, Bright Lights Big City, and Narnia in a blender, and you've got The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

I was really knocked out by the first two-thirds of the Magicians, where it takes on the subject of the Potter books--a coming of age story where a young man learns the mystic arts.  Quentin (the young protagonist) and his friends aren't as squeaky clean as the Potter crew.  They swear, smoke, crush on their instructors, drink cocktails and have sex, which gives you the feeling that this is happening right now over in Brakebills (the academy for the mystically gifted).  Grossman puts Quentin and his friends through five years of school by the time the novel is halfway over, and this compressed pace is a welcome relief from the Potter series.  The magic that is taught and wielded by the students is also quite different, as Quentin performs feats that Doctor Strange would envy during his final year.

the-magicians-by-lev-grossman Quentin hooks up with a clique of friends that he hangs around with post-graduation: Alice, Janet, Eliot, and Josh.  In addition there's Penny, a freakish loner who Quentin surpassed during the first year.  What do young people do after they graduate and become full flung Magicians?  It turns out when you can do anything and don't have to work, things can fall apart quickly, and that's where the Bright Lights Big City phase comes in. 

I reveled in Quentin's decadence, but after that section, the book hit a speed bump.  I wanted the rest of the novel to be that magical soap opera story set in the modern world.  Instead, Quentin makes a horrific mistake and drags his friends into Fillory, a magical world that resembles Narnia to a certain degree.  I wasn't that interested in Fillory, but I was never into Narnia either.  Grossman weaves the back-story of Fillory (there's a series of Fillory novels that Quentin has reread numerous times) throughout the Magicians, so you're prepared on the mythology before the gang arrives. 

One frustrating thing about the Fillory section is the inconsistent use of magic.  Quentin seems enormously powerful by the time he graduates from Brakebills.  In Fillory, he can barely summon a spell to save his life.  It can be explained away by the fact that magic in Fillory works differently, and Quentin had other problems since graduation.  It's still frustrating--especially when another character's power levels suddenly spike in order to save the day.

I still recommend reading the book, it's a lot of fun, a complete story all tied together, but Grossman leaves plenty of room for a sequel.  Which I would probably read as soon as it was published!  The most interesting element of the Fillory section is an inter-dimensional gateway plane that opens up portals to many different worlds.  I'd love to see Quentin travel to another world that doesn't resemble a famous fantasy series.

Here are some links to a three part interview that Lev Grossman did with Zack Smith from Newsarama, where he discusses a lot of scenes that were edited out of the book, and talks about comics as well.  Nuff said!

Newsarama The Magic of Lev Grossman, Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

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