The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Short Review: Dark hyper-real earth-based fantasy for adults, heavier on the emotional life-tracking and lighter on the actual magic. Great reader + descent story = a pleasant listen.
Long Review: Some might try and simplify describing this book as Harry Potter goes to Narnia – but that isn’t going set your expectations properly. Yes, magic is real. There is a hidden school for magicians. Kids grew up reading a multi-book series about a magical world called Fillory long before they discovered magic. But in this story Quentin Coldwater grew up in Brooklyn and the school for magicians is a five year college and is hidden north of New York City on the Hudson.
As I have admitted in the past, I am a sucker for world building and character-driven stories. This book held me more with the cast of characters and a curiosity about how things would work in Grossman’s vision of a world with magic pulling the strings than it did with the overall plot.
This is not a happy book. Much of the darkness that touches Quentin’s world can be linked back to magic, but its impact on Quentin is real. You won’t love Quentin all along the way – often you want to reach into the recording and shake him and point him at what is right in front of him. That said, I did root for him. I wanted him to succeed, find what he was seeking and just be happy. There were some characters who I wish had gotten more time in the limelight, but ultimately this is Quentin’s story. I wonder what this story would have been like if it had been told from the point of view of one of the other main characters – Eliot or Janet perhaps? I would welcome that, a la Ender’s Shadow.
I was torn between being pleased at the way that Grossman tied together all the elements of the story and being a little frustrated that somehow it was too neat in the end. I suppose that I would have been more annoyed to not have had everything he had dangled in front of us along the way explained.
I am not certain I would have liked this as much on paper. Bramhall did a great job. His voice became Quentin’s inner voice so seamlessly, but he also made it easy to recognize the broad cast of characters. I do recommend this book – but know that your mileage may vary on this one.