PerpetualIntern’s #CBR4 Review #10: The Magicians by Lev Grossman
After the magic of The Night Circus, I went on a bit of a magic kick, reading two books in a row that involved it. The first, The Magicians, was an interesting and amusing read. The second was not, but I’ll get to that in my next review.
One person described The Magicians as Harry Potter with a lot more sex. Quentin Coldwater is a Holden Caulfield-type character living in Brooklyn: he’s at the top of his class, headed for Princeton, and yet he’s unhappy with his existence. In fact, just as I hated The Catcher in the Rye‘s protagonist for his incessant whining and ennui, I kind of couldn’t stand Quentin and his “problems.” He eventually follows a public garden into the magical world of Brakebills College, the only school for magicians in North America. There, he learns that he has what it takes to be a magician, but unlike the fun classes of Hogwarts, magic takes a lot of hard work. He befriends a few other people and eventually they all graduate, which is where the darkness of the book begins.
Harry Potter dealt with Harry, Hermione and Ron right up until high school is over, skipping ahead in an epilogue to address where their lives have taken them. Grossman addresses the reality of what it must be like to be a 20-something magician, with extreme power, no need to work and no purpose. Quentin and his friends experiment with drugs, partying, sex and other vices to combat their general sense of worthlessness.
Eventually, striving for purpose, they decide to try and find the mythical world of Fillory. Fillory was first described in a children’s book series, much like the Chronicles of Narnia. Quentin has always been obsessed with the book and they all figure they will go to the magical world and become kings and queens of the realm. What they find in Fillory, however, is much darker.
Ultimately, I liked that Grossman’s characters were much more human than those of the Harry Potter series. They are flawed, they are vulnerable and no one is completely good or completely evil. They are kids that have been given the world and then left to their own devices to figure out what to do with it. In that are inherent dangers that each of them must face.