The Magicians — Idealistic and Gritty

It’s a work of literary fantasy that left me speechless. It was astounding in its breadth and grittiness, and could be one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read in my life. And yet it slaps you in the face, like a wet turd in church. It made me wish for some innocence, some sort of happy tale instead of a “Dirty” Harry Potter goes to Narnia-Hell. It’s gritty, it’s realistic, and it is as f*cking awesome as a pile of cookies left on your porch by the local drug dealer.

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is one of those books that tears you apart emotionally while you read it, turning your idealism onto its head and forcing the reader to ask oneself just what they would do if they had any sort of magic in their life.

Quentin Coldwater is just an ordinary American teen (who happens to be brilliantly intelligent) preparing for life at college with his two best friends when he suddenly stumbles upon a secret campus where is he tested and, after passing, “released” back into reality. Quentin has no idea what he has stumbled upon, but he immediately accepts the offer to attend a special school for magicians, where he is separated from his friends (who were not accepted) and begins to build himself a strange new life.

The school he is invited to attend seems to function with a laissez-faire approach to education. The adults (because that’s what they are, in spite of everything they act to the contrary) learn their magic through repetition and rote, much like modern schooling. No magical quills, potions and herbal lore for them. No, the school is content on churning out magicians with very little preparation for their upcoming lives as adult magicians. Huzzah for standardized testing!

As he descends further into the rabbit hole, Quentin begins to realize that his childhood fantasy world, Fillory (think Narnia), is real and a place where he can visit. However, he slips into a world of hedonism and nonsense as he comes to grips with being an adult magician in an unmagical society. Or rather, fails to come to grips, as his life begins to fall apart around him and his dreams of Fillory are replaced with nights of partying and days of nothingness, a soul-crushing emptiness he is more than willing to allow his life to become.

I can’t explain just how much awesome this book contains. It’s horrifying, in a way, as you read about typical American teens who simply coast through their realities with little to no motivation. Yet absolutely brilliant on its own, making the reader take stock and want to reach into the book and smack Quentin (repeatedly) across the back of his head.

Much like you’d do with your own kids…

Grossman’s style is uniquely his own, a blend of the fantastical and realistic. He hits you with it over and over again, never letting you go, never letting up as he drives you through Quentin’s story. It’s amazing and yet, horrifying. I can’t say enough just how much this book is a genre-buster, one that should be read by any and all. They say that The Lord of the Flies is required reading for middle school boys? I’ll add that The Magicians should be read by any and all college students before they graduate.

A++. Must read. Go buy it.

–Reviewed by Jason

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