One chilly fall day, Quentin Coldwater, smart and nerdy—but not in a cool way—was headed to his college interview for Princeton. He was thinking about the future and the chance to escape his Brooklyn life with his neglectful parents. As he was knocking on the door of his scheduled meeting place, Quentin had no inkling that life as he knew it had just ended.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman is the story of Quentin's discovery of his magical skills, his four years in magicians college, and what happens after he graduates. I had heard the book described as Harry Potter for grownups. A more accurate description would be Harry Potter plus Narnia with a pinch of Lord of the Rings and the Arthur legends.
If you are worried about spoilers, stop reading now and skip to below the asterisks.
The Harry Potter similarities are fairly obvious: There is a magical school that is magically hidden from sight from the rest of the world. At some point, the students get sorted into groups, and each group has its own reputation. There is a special game/sport. The main female student is a know-it-all. There is a device that can reverse time.
The Narnia similarities are equally obvious: There is magical world that can be reached either by having a magical object, by walking through a magical piece of furniture, or by being summoned. The children of one family have visited that world, and there is a series of books written about their adventures. If you use the magical object (a button), you end up in an in-between world of pools that lead to other worlds.
If you are familiar with Lord of the Rings and the King Arthur tales, you will sometimes have a sense of déjà vu. I'm not sure if there was much original material in The Magicians. Perhaps it was meant to be an obvious take off on the other books, but if so, the intentionality went over my head. Instead, I was left waiting for something new and different.
I also had trouble believing that the characters in the book were college students. They mostly seemed to act like sixteen-year-olds with the key to the liquor cabinet. I know that college students everywhere can get into the partying mode, but I felt that there was no real explanation for why Quentin's gang spent their evenings drinking. My general impression was that alcohol and sex were used solely to differentiate Brakebills students from Hogwarts students.
Published by Penguin USA, 2009
Source: Review copy (see review policy)