Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

I loved this book. It's been on my to-read list for a very long time, but for some reason, I never managed to pick it up. Actually, I know the reason. The cover is uninspiring, and I have always been a girl who judges a book by its cover. If you're not supposed to do that, what's the cover for, anyway?! After having read the book, I'm rather unclear on exactly what the crooked, badly "pruned," yellow-leaved tree on the cover has to do with the story whatsoever. But I don't make those decisions, so...

As I said, I loved this book. The Magicians is divided into four parts. In the beginning of the first part, Quentin Coldwater, a brilliant high school senior obsessed with a series of fantasy books set in the magical world Fillory (a sort of Narnia-like place of clear-cut good and evil, talking animals, and ram gods, accessed at random through clocks, closets, etc., and in which children always seem to go on exciting quests), has one of his closest-held dreams come true. He is told that magic is real, and he's offered a position in the only American university that teaches it. The first part of the book is reminiscent of Harry Potter, if only because it is a bunch of young(ish) wizards learning how to do magic. But instead of seeming like a pale imitation of something else, Lev Grossman acknowledges the inevitable similarities and creates something entirely his own.

One deliberate reference to the similarities was when Quentin went to look for a member of his welters team (welters is a sort of magical man-sized chess game in which teams try to capture squares on a giant board using magic). Josh is talking to a dealer in magical items when Quentin finds him, half an hour after the game started. Josh looks at the dealer and asks, "Got anything for time travel? Time-turner or something?" When the dealer says he'll look into it, Josh says, "Awesome. Send me an owl." Later in that same scene, he says, "Gotta get my quiddich costume. I mean uniform. I mean welters."

But instead of being a book about becoming a wizard, The Magicians is a book about becoming a man. Quentin has everything. He's incredibly smart, he's probably headed to Princeton, his parents are still married and live well enough in Brooklyn...but he's unhappy. When he is told magic is real and offered the chance to learn it, his dreams come true. But he's still unhappy, feeling like his real life hasn't really started yet. At its core, The Magicians is an exploration into the follies of living for some more desirable future, rather than being happy with an already amazing present. Lev Grossman does this by writing about what it would be like for someone to get everything he ever wanted, only to realize that bringing his fantasies into the real world changes them, or changes his perception of them, and once he gets everything he wants, he has to find something new to desire, or feel directionless.

I think Lev Grossman's use of Harry Potter and Narnia references is incredibly smart, because those are the worlds that today's young people fantasize about. He hands those dreams to Quentin with no strings attached. And then he asks the question: Now what?

I would recommend this book to anyone who's ever fantasized about being spun into another, more beautiful, magical world.

Rating: 5 stars!

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