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The Magicians by Lev Grossman
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Jan 21, 2013

it was amazing
Read from December 03 to 12, 2012

Damn. Where to begin?
This book blew me away, despite my reservations.
A secret school for adolescent magicians? SOUNDS FAMILIAR.
A (supposedly) fictional storybookland accessed by children, and full of witches, talking animals, and moralizing overtones? SOUNDS FAMILIAR.
I was worried this book would only be a mashup of my childhood faves. In a way, it is. But it's also so much more than that.

Quentin Coldwater is in the throes of the admissions process for Princeton. However, Quentin's life takes a drastic new direction when his interviewer dies, and instead Quentin finds a parcel with his name on it that takes him to Brakebills, a private upstate school for magicians. And so the first half of the book chronicles Quentin's introduction to the world of magic, and the countless (mis)adventures he has with his friends (and more-than-friends).

Initially, this felt just like Hogwarts, only with solely cynical brainiacs for its student body; it felt like Ravenclaw and Slytherin had an American bastard child. Quentin is our resident HP, foisted upon a magical world from a less-than-stellar family life. Only this is not Harry Potter. The characters are all more well-rounded, sarcasic, and wry. Quentin loathes his family, but only because they are so thoroughly average, and not because they're abusive, spiteful fatties. In a sense, I'm reading the same IDEA as Harry Potter, but for a more astute audience. The emotions are different, the magic is more complicated, and the darker parts are thoroughly creepy. Right and wrong aren't quite as black and white as Rowling (beautifully) led us to believe as children, and these characters struggle with that.

After leaving Brakebills, Quentin and his friends eventually discover that Fillory, the magical land central to a beloved childhood series featuring the semi-orphaned Chatwin children, is real. Through a loophole described in the last book, they are able to access Fillory using the enchanted buttons of a merry band of bunny-sailors. But, Fillory is not as cheerful and simplistic as the kids' books suggest, and it certainly ain't Narnia; it's a nation at war. Right and wrong are multifaceted and difficult to discern. Ember and Umber, Fillory's Aslan-goat duo, are just as nonchalant in their ruling, but Quentin's gang takes a more active role in questioning their indifference. Evil arises from a source (which I cannot describe in more detail because it would be teh biggest spoiler EVAR) that has very good reasons for its actions, as well as to fill a void left by Ember and Umber's unfeeling leadership. In short, it got dark. Like, Voldemort-and-Snape-backstory dark (but still NOT a Harry Potter knockoff, I promise). The inspiration for Fillory is transparently Narnia, but Grossman surprised and enchanted me enough to have me clambering to read the next installment.

He's also got me dying to reread HP and Narnia, so I think I'll get on that ASAP.
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