The Magicians, Lev Grossman, 402pages, $16.00 paperback
Life really begins at seventeen. It’s the age of great decisions: Whether we will go off to university or not, and if so which one, and if not, how will we spend our years to come? Quentin and his two nearly lifelong friends are nearing this very juncture. They are bright, slightly nerdish, and applying for all of the best schools. Quentin himself is on his way to an entrance interview for Princeton University. If a snow board could travel the air stream you’d think he’d be riding one now.
But his life is a poor second compared to the lives of the characters of his favorite books, the Fillory novels, based in a Narniaesque world. It’s a childish obsession he can’t shake, and even as he rings his interviewer’s door, he imagines that the man might be a gate keeper to that magical world.
Quentin and his friend James discover that the “gate keeper” is dead on his own library floor however. Their discovery sets off a maelstrom of events that takes Quentin from a gray Brooklyn winter into the emerald summer of another world. He stands at the foot of an expansive park, crowned by an English Tudor style mansion in upstate New York. Close by stands an unusual boy smoking a cigarette: They’ve been expecting him.
Quentin has entered the world of Brakebills College, just in time for their
entrance exams. Brakebills (which as we read on bears out a sequence of uncanny similarities to another famous school of witchcraft and wizardry) is a school for American Magicians. But unlike its doppelganger across the Atlantic which doesn’t discriminate between the dull and the bright in its admittance policy, Brakebills requires its students to be of almost unparalleled brilliance. There are no Ronald Weasleys here, no Crabs or Goyles.
This is a school of self tortured scholars. And the brilliant are always so much better at expressing their angst. This makes it possible to write deeply and sensitively. Lev Grossman has done just that. There is no
simple divide between good and evil here: Each character is imbued instead with the compelling vagaries of both. Quentin must navigate his new and complicated relationships as he tries to navigate his own complicated journey into adulthood.
This book is inventive, emotionally stirring and frequently witty. Its characters are complex and well developed. They possess deep fears that readers will recognize in themselves. It is one of the best written books in its genre and one that we at Yaroos highly recommend. 4 Stars out of 5.