lizabelle: (Old coat new book)
[personal profile] lizabelle
I picked up this book on a whim after seeing it recommended by James Bradley on twitter. Well, I say "on a whim", but it was a bit more than, really, since James is also the person upon whose recommendation I read Justin Cronin's The Passage, aka my latest obsession.

In The Magicians, we meet Quentin, a geeky, unhappy teenager who is bounced out of his normal existence (finishing high school, going to Princeton) when he discovers that magic exists - and he can do it. Enrolled at Brakebills, the only college for magicians in North America, he falls in with the cool set - languid Eliot, drama-queen Janet, good-natured-yet-tortured Josh and clever Alice. At this point, I wondered if I was going to read The Secret History with added wizards, but Grossman has more up his sleeve than that.

Quentin has never quite let go of his favourite childhood books - a trait that many fannish people will recognise - in which a family of children are sent to live with an eccentric aunt and discover another, magical world. In this world, called Fillory, the children have various adventures and excitements, until (usually at the end of the school holidays) they are ejected by the godlike figures of Umber and Ember. If you're getting Narnia vibes now, you'd be right.

So magic, for Quentin, is almost like discovering that Fillory exists - like fulfilling his childhood dream of escape into this magical world where he can be a hero, and where he doesn't have to deal with the real world. Except that the real world refuses to go away, however hard he tries to forget his former life and however hard he works at magic. And when his time at Brakebills is up, he has to face the real world for, er, real.

The Magicians is what happens when you take the set-up of Harry Potter and stuff it, kicking and screaming, into our world. Don't get me wrong - I love the Harry Potter books, and part of their allure is the magical world that exists alongside our own. But Harry Potter approaches difficult moral questions with a battering ram rather than, say, a fountain pen. Harry has had a difficult - horrible - life, but he never struggles with his own self-worth; never really has to deal with anything beyond his willingness to risk his life for the forces of good. Which of course is a huge issue in itself, and part of what makes the Harry Potter books such a compelling and (for me) emotionally satisfying read.

Grossman's approach is different. For me, The Magicians is about happiness and where we can find it. The book is chock full of life lessons in a manner that sometimes threatens to become heavy-handed but never quite does so because the story is so damn enjoyable. It's wrapped up in tight but evocative writing and, if I didn't like everything about the way events played out, I can forgive that for the sheer pleasure that reading it gave me. Highly recommended for anyone who can take even a smidgeon of fantasy with their reading.
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