Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman is like Harry Potter but...

Wait, that's not right.  Initially and superficially, one may think the two are similar, but in reality they are quite different.  The Magicians begins as a tale about Quentin, a very intelligent and diligent high school student in Brooklyn, and his two friends, Julia and James.  The tale takes a sudden turn and Quentin abandons his family, friends, and old life for a life of learning magic at Brakebills Academy.  Sounds like Harry Potter, yes?  It stops here.

In Harry Potter, magic is, rather aptly, magical.  It is fantastic and relatively easy to learn (for something which the distinct majority of the population have absolutely no possible talent with).  In The Magicians, magic is incredibly difficult to learn, with the most basic attempt, making a marble move slightly, being incredibly difficult to learn.  Spells are not single words and a quick flick of the wrist, they are incantations and complex finger hand movements (the constant practice of give you great manual dexterity).  Life for a magician is no different than the life of a regular person, filled with turmoil and dissatisfaction.  Maintaining meaningful relationships is difficult, and people are outcast just as easily in the magical world as they are in the mundane world.  In many ways, life as a magician is more difficult.

Much of The Magicians appears to be a thought experiment on the part of the author about what magic and being a magician would be like if such things existed.  Fortunately, all of this is conveyed narratively, with the story demonstrating all of these details to the reader, rather than being simply stated as if in a textbook.  This isn't to say that interesting and magical things don't happen in the book.  In fact, The Magicians is an enthralling read,  which held my attention far better than most other books.  Tales of The Beast and what happened to the Fourth Year students are gripping, and they push you to turn the page to discover the rest of the tale.

Slightly more than half of the 400ish page book is concerned with Quentin's magical education at Brakebills Academy.  Since Brakebills is a college-age institution, the characters are adults, and they have more 'adult' problems.  So this story isn't meant for young people, it's meant for those who can understand the mature thoughts and actions of its characters, as well as their mistakes and flaws.

I hope you don't take my description to mean that The Magicians lacks the epic moments and story that we have come to associate with magic.  Epic does indeed live in The Magicians, and truly comes to a head in the latter half of the book, post-graduation.  Keep in mind, however, that The Magicians is not just a story about events, it is a story about people.

An excellent book, and definitely one that I would recommend.