21 April 2012

The Magicians (Lev Grossman)

Well it has certainly been a long time since I last reviewed.  Alcott had a little flurry of reviews around the time she moved away, which promptly stopped when her Masters started. What could my excuse possibly be? I’m down to one job, I’m not studying at the moment and since the inter-state move of my closest friend I’ve become even more of a hermit. If you really must know I’ve been cooking a lot. Also watching lots and lots of Downton Abbey. It could be that this newfound passion for the blog stems from the fact that Downton Abbey has no more episodes until September. (It’s not). (It is.)
I’ve also decided to make my life a little easier. If you’ve got a brilliant memory, you might remember that I’m a children’s book specialist, which means every week I’ll be reading a number of children’s and YA novels. I read adult books too, obviously, but sometimes a week will have gone past and all I have new to review is YA stuff and so I just review nothing. So you can expect to see a few more reviews of YA stuff popping up – not a lot but some. There are some truly fantastic books being published for the YA market because publishers know that young adults will read almost anything.  They’re not set in their ways about being a literary fiction reader, or a sci-fi reader, so some really cool, genre bending stuff gets published.  Some really brainless stuff also gets published as publishers jump on the craze of the moment – dystopian futures - publishing anything that has a hint of dystopia about it.  But I won’t be reviewing that stuff.

After this ramble of an introduction where I go on and on about YA, I might as well go ahead and review an adult book – just making sure you’re still concentrating! The Magicians by Lev Grossman is everything I wanted Max Frei’s The Stranger to be. The impression I got from reading reviews of this one was that it was for readers who had grown up with Harry Potter and were now a bit jaded and cynical.  Or perhaps Harry Potter, grew up as himself and became jaded and cynical. Either way I had been in the mood for a bit of light fantasy, and this fit the bill perfectly.

Quentin (Q) turns up on the day of his Princeton entrance interview to find the man who was supposed to be interviewing him is dead. Lying on the desk are two envelopes addressed to Quentin and his friend James. James declines to take his envelope, while Quentin does not. This turns out to be a defining moment for the two - Quentin goes on to sit the entrance exams for Brakebills College where he will eventually study magic. James does not. It is particularly satisfying that Quentin gets to study magic as he is someone who has never outgrown the idea of the world of Fillory. Everyone read the Fillory books growing up – a series about a magical land not unlike Narnia – and most people (including most magicians) reach a certain age and leave all that kids stuff behind them. Except Quentin. Maybe I can sympathise with Quentin here given that I still read a huge amount of kids books. (Side bar: does this mean that one day I'll get to study magic because I still read books about magic? Probably).

Anyway, Quentin gets into Brakebills and is obviously really good at magic. After a while. Actually he kind of sucks at first but then becomes really good. He also becomes one of a clique of students which reminded me a little of the group in The Secret History. A very insular crowd with a well developed sense of their own superiority. The book follows Q's four years at Brakebills and his first year out of school - most of this first year is spent in a drunken haze - before finding a button which changes EVERYTHING. 

This is a REALLY well written fantasy with great world building as well as a really tightly plotted story. I don't think I'll ever be too jaded and cynical to be a Harry Potter fan but if I'm in a jaded and cynical sort of mood The Magicians (and it's sequel The Magician King) is where I'll head.
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