Friday, May 25, 2012

The Magicians

The first book I read this summer was The Magicians by Lev Grossman.  I had actually started reading it for a class during the spring, but didn't get around to finishing it and decided to read the whole thing again over the summer.  I've read a lot of reviews from people who did not like this book at all, but I actually enjoyed it.

The Magicians is often described as "Harry Potter for adults," which is somewhat true, at least on the surface.  The protagonist, Quentin, discovers he can use actual magic and gets accepted to a college to study magic.  Aside from that, the book is actually quite different from Harry Potter.  First of all, the characters in this book are very aware of the fantasy genre and even make references to Harry Potter and Tolkien several times.  This was my favorite part of the book, because most fantasy books (even the ones that take place in the real world/modern day) seem to have characters who have lived under a rock their entire lives and don't know the first thing about fantasy.  Quentin and his friends realize what's going on, and while still being excited to get accepted to a school for magic, aren't stupidly amazed that magic even exists.  Although their knowledge of fantasy does lead to a lot of disappointment.

Besides being very aware of the fantasy genre, this book also chooses not to follow the fantasy expectations - the fantastical world(s) in the book aren't the best thing ever and there really isn't a happy ending.  Quentin is an unhappy kid and at first he thinks going to a school for magic will make all his dreams come true.  Then he realizes that it's still school, he has to study all the time, there's a lot of hard work, exams to study for, and way too much alcohol with his friends.  After school Quentin doesn't really do anything other than get drunk all night and sleep all day, until he finds a way into Fillory (aka Narnia), the magical world from a series of children's books.  Quentin once again thinks all his dreams will come true as soon as he gets to Fillory.  Without giving too much of the plot away, Fillory basically sucks and Quentin is still miserable.  So if you're looking for a book to make you feel good, The Magicians is not it.

Despite being somewhat depressing and filled with apathetic characters who are drunk for large portions of the book, I still enjoyed The Magicians.  It's like a fantasy novel, but more believable.  The characters are from the real world and they recognize fantasy and magic when they see it.  The fantasy world might have magic, but it's still just a bunch of average people living average lives (with magic) and magic does not solve all their problems.  While this certainly isn't my favorite book (I do still love Tolkien), it's a very believable book and it was nice to read something with a fresh take on the fantasy genre - even if it is a downer.

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