Tuesday, March 29, 2011

CBRIII Book 10: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

It should come as no surprise to those of you who know me that I loved this book. LOVED IT. A story about a young man who discovers a world of magic that lies beyond our own? I didn't stand a chance against this book.

Quentin Coldwater is disillusioned. At the young age of 17, he's tired of his home in New York City, and the ever-pervading feeling that the life he's living is not the life that was intended for him. He longs to discover that his real life exists elsewhere... like the magical world of Fillory, a Narnia-esque fantasy world created by an author named Christopher Plover. Quentin is a huge fan of the Fillory series, and secretly compares his life to the adventures of the Chatwin family in the series. A smart, sharp, brooding teenager (is there any other kind?), Quentin is on his way to an interview with a Princeton alum when things go awry - the interviewer is dead, and left behind in a file for Quentin to find is a manuscript for a sixth Fillory book - a book that does not exist. Intrigued, Quentin opens the book and slips down the proverbial rabbit hole, ending up on the grounds of a school in upstate New York - Brakebills College. He discovers in short time that magic is real, and he is being offered the chance to study it at Brakebills if he passes an exam unlike any other he's ever taken. Quentin naturally jumps at the chance - could the life he'd been longing for actually be real? It may not be Fillory, but it's something amazing and new, and worlds away from his life in high school.

Soon, Quentin is a student at Brakebills, learning how to cast spells while trying to figure out his specific Discipline (a specific area of magic that he'll focus on, like picking a major at college). This is no Hogwarts, though, and it's clear that there is a dark side to everything he learns. As the years pass by, Quentin slowly comes to realize that he can do anything he wants, with the magic he's learned - so what is there to do when you can literally do anything? He again experiences disillusionment and fears that he's losing the battle when one of his classmates comes to him with an amazing discovery - Fillory is real, and is theirs for the taking. He and his friends travel to Fillory to discover the truth behind Plover's stories - and to discover their fate once and for all.

I could go on and on about this book - it's filled from start to finish with captivating adventures. One scene in particular has stuck with me since reading the novel. One typical day, while stuck in a boring lecture, Quentin tries to find a way to entertain himself by causing the professor to mess up his lecture, and inadvertently creates a spell that allows an otherworldly creature referred to as "the Beast" to cross over into their world. Grossman creates such a permeating sense of absolute dread that you can't help but feel as terrified and helpless as the students feel in being trapped in the hall with the Beast as it stalks about playing with its prey.

I found myself identifying with Quentin's ongoing inability to just live in the moment and enjoy it. I mean, who hasn't at one time or another looked around and thought, "Is this it? Is this really how my life is?" And even as Quentin gets the chance to live the life he thought he wanted, he's still not sure if it's going to lead to the happiness he's been missing. I've read some reviews that thought that Quentin was basically a big idiot - he got his wish, what is he waiting for?, that kind of thing - but to me that just made the character more realistic.

I've heard the book described as "Harry Potter for adults." That's a very easy comparison to make, but I think the world that Grossman has created here is strong enough to stand on its own. Brakebills and all of its students felt very real to me, and Fillory comes to life in the last section of the book. Grossman is working on a sequel to be released sometime this year. I cannot wait to read what new adventures he's come up with since he finished the Magicians.

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