The Magicians by Lev Grossman (Viking Books)-When 17 year old high school senior, Quentin Coldwater, goes to an alumni interview for Princeton, in Brooklyn, he and his best friend James discover the interviewer has died of a brain hemorrhage. Upon leaving, the paramedic at the scene hands both boys envelopes with their names on it, but only Quentin takes his. A book is inside, an old book, with a title that indicates it might be the 6th book of Fillory. But there is NO 6th book in the Fillory series. Everyone knows that. Especially Quentin, who’s been obsessed with the Fillory fantasy series since he was a child. When Quentin chases after a piece of paper that flies out of the book, he finds himself suddenly in upstate New York, in front of a rather large home, under a beautiful blue sky. Could it be Fillory? Could his dream of one day losing himself in this fantastical world finally be coming true? Well, no, not so fast, but at first, it seems like it’s the next best thing. He’s introduced to the Dean of Brakebills, Henry Fogg, and is asked if he’d like to take the Preliminary Examination, although there’s no thinking about it allowed. It’s a yes or no proposition, and Quentin Coldwater, insecure, unhappy, Quentin Coldwater, cannot abide going back to the cold, rainswept streets of Brooklyn to await his dim fate amongst his best friend and a girl that he loves, but will never love him in turn. So it has to be a yes.
What follows is an education that Quentin never expected. If he expected Fillory, Brakebills is not it. It’s mentally tough, exhausting, and at the same time, the best years of his life. He inevitably falls in with a small group of classmates who are all intriguing in their own way, but the toughest nut to crack is Alice. Quiet and brilliant, Alice provides a calm presence for Quentin, and eventually, a very strong bond forms between the two. There’s no shortage of wonder at Brakebills. Quentin and Co. learn all manner of spellcasting and illusion, as well as the ability to effect reality itself. All is not sweetness and light at Brakebills, though. The ability to do magic, to really do magic, is a large burden to carry, and a magician has to be strong of will and character to keep from spiraling into the madness that almost endless power can bring about. Quentin and his friends are tested constantly, and Quentin learns a few hard lessons about the world around him, and how fragile it can be. It’s especially important to keep your wits about you in the insular world of Brakebills. Amidst endless enchantment and wonders, it’s quite easy to forget that there’s a whole other world outside of the school grounds, and Quentin soon begins to struggle with the daunting thought of life after Brakebills.
The Magicians is broken into three parts with Book 1 being Quentin’s time at Brakebills, Book 2 is life after Brakebills, and Book 3? Well, you’ll see. Where Book 1 is thoroughly magical, with a glittering patina of unreality, Book 2 is still magical, but is painted with the harsh overtones of the decidedly unmagical reality of living outside of the bounds of Brakebills. After graduation, Quentin and his friends begin an aimless existence of excess and irresponsibility, but when a former classmate arrives breathlessly with knowledge of the existence of another world, remarkably similar to Fillory, Quinton sees this as an opportunity to cancel out all wrongs since leaving Brakebills. If he can get to Fillory, land of his childhood dreams, everything will be ok, won’t it?
With nods to classics such as Narnia and I’m assuming, Harry Potter (yes, I may be the only remaining human that hasn’t read it, with the exception of say, babies, and possibly the very elderly, so let’s move on), The Magicians will take you on a ride you won’t soon forget. Intricate and complex, The Magicians is also very accessible, and it’s easily one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time. I was helplessly engrossed and loathe to put it down. Lev Grossman has created a world full of wonder, enchantment, and dark fascination. There were moments when I was reminded of what it was like to be young, right on the cusp of some new and exciting adventure, the whole world open before me. There were also some extremely creepy moments, in particular a scene involving a creature referred to only as “The Beast”.
The Magicians is a book about magic, yes, but it’s also about the wonders of being young, of discovery, and it’s also about love, the countless little emotional crimes we commit on a daily basis, and about constantly hoping that something else is right around the corner, when life is right in front of us, waiting to be lived. I could probably go on for a while about the awesomeness that is The Magicians, but don’t you want to experience it for yourself?