I’ve been wary of reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I’d heard a lot of great things about the book, but I don’t usually like fantasy stories where the protagonists are older teens/adults from our world who discover a fantasy world; it tends to dampen the sense of wonder and discovery that usually accompanies the exploration of a new world. However, the Lev Grossman’s short story set in the Magicians universe in Shawn Speakman’s Unfettered anthology (which I still need to review at some point) persuaded me to finally buy myself a copy, and I’m glad I did!
I’ve heard The Magicians described as Harry Potter meets Narnia, and that’s not a bad description. We follow Quentin, a fairly nerdy and very smart teenager who’s obsessed with the Narnia-like magical land of Fillory. He’s close to graduating from high school when he has a “you’re a wizard, Harry!” moment and gets the opportunity to go to a magical college and soon has more exciting things to worry about than Fillory. But Fillory is not as imaginary as Quentin thinks…
I enjoyed this book tremendously because it works excellently in two very different genres – high fantasy, and contemporary coming of age. Fantasy often comes with a coming of age story, but it’s generally of the type where the protagonist needs to accept his destiny and become the hero he was meant to be. The Magicians has none of this – most of it is the story of Quentin growing up, making real friends, realising the unimportance of high school priorities, coping with the real world after college… all very familiar. Magic is almost secondary until the last quarter of the book where they find Fillory. And even then, Quentin and his friends act exactly how you’d expect regular twenty somethings to act, but Grossman spins it into a great fantasy story, managing to make the same situations both mesmerisingly wondrous and infuriatingly realistic.
On the surface, this seems like a ridiculous book. The protagonist is generally unlikeable, the settings are very similar to books you’ve probably read, and nothing really happens for more than half of the book. Don’t be scared, though, because all of this enables Lev Grossman to tell an entirely new type of fantasy story that’s very much grounded in reality. Read it!
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