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A Reader of Fictions: What You Wish For - Guster

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What You Wish For - Guster

The Magicians
The Magicians, Book 1

Author: Lev Grossman
Pages: 402
Review Copy Acquired from: Penguin Books

If you do any kind of research on The Magicians at all, even just reading the back of the novel, you will find it compared constantly and fervently to Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. I tend to take such comparisons with a grain of salt. With such epically amazing series, it's unlikely that the comparison will do the book in question a favor, because it will merely disappoint, clumsily ape the better novel or actually have nothing in common whatsoever with the book to which it is being compared. The Harry Potter series is definitely among my favorite books of all time and Narnia, although not a favorite due to the Christian allegory, is still incredibly well-written and not to be easily matched. With that said, Lev Grossman managed to mine both for inspiration and create something new, wonderful and completely his own.

So yeah, I kind of loved it from the beginning to the end. Like Harry Potter, this series follows a main male character, Quentin Coldwater, in the third person, revealing only that which Quentin personally observes, experiences or is told. For those of us who still dream sometimes about receiving a Hogwarts letter (or the American equivalent) and a time turner, by which to go back to the right age, we have yet another magical school to lament not having received an invitation to join. This school, Brakebills, is even more exclusive: just having witchy powers does not guarantee you admittance. You have to be a genius, not just smart but incredibly brilliant, and also possess a certain something to get to go. It saddens me that I am not smart enough to have ever gotten to go to Brakebills.

The story is told in four books, all of which have their own themes and arcs. The first book is what I like to think of as the Harry Potter arc. In this section, Quentin gets his invitation and takes the test to go to Brakebills. The students there are of the age to go to college, older than the HP crew, but they go through similar schedules with classes and holidays and all of that. This part is where you learn about the rules of magic and meet the cast of characters, most notably Alice, Eliot, Penny, Josh and Janet.

In Book 2, they have all graduated and are living it up in New York, in a the world is ending kind of way. They're all completely crazy and screwed up, but in a familiar way; many people make these mistakes once out of college and unsure what to do next. Basically, they're disillusioned and spoiled and depressed and without motivation, waiting for some sign of what they're meant to be and do. This section is painful to read, but believable and necessary.

Let me sidetrack for a moment to talk about Quentin as a character. Overall, I kind of don't like him, because he can be so dumb for one so smart. Why? Quentin sees the world in a very black and white, childish kind of way, which is why his mood does such crazy rockets from the heights of happiness to the depths of despair. He has huge expectations from his life and is monumentally destroyed and depressed when life does not meet them. He has high standards for others and judges them for their mistakes, but blames his disappointing life for his own. He always expects the next new thing to fix all of his problems and bring him the perfect paradise he always knew he deserved (thus the Fillory obsession).

Since I didn't do a summation at the beginning, allow me to explain Fillory briefly now. Fillory is the Narnia equivalent, a magical land from a novel series written for children. These books are about children from a family who manage to pass into another land via a number of means (such as a clock) and there are made kings and queens and have adventures, although they are always made to leave at the end of each book by the goat gods of the world. Book three of The Magicians is the Narnia portion. It is very like Narnia and yet so very, very different and much, much darker.

The fourth book largely sets up for the sequel, The Magician King. I can't say much more than that without spoilering, which I most ardently do not wish to do, because I want everyone to enjoy this book as much as I did. If you love Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, high fantasy, stories about geniuses, well-written novels and/or incredible stories, go get yourself a copy of this posthaste. Fangirling complete.

"Once had this dream, crashed down in Oz
Not black and white, but where the colors are
I never dreamed that I would let her go
And I will get what I deserve

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