You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Magicians

In The Magicians, Lev Grossman has created something more than your standard coming of age/school of magic/magical land story. The protagonist is a teenager named Quentin who is a typical specimen of the breed. He is anxious for his future and moody, and despises his parents due to their general lack of interest in his life. Yet Quentin is obsessed with magic and the magic world of Fillory from books that he has adored since childhood. Quentin goes to a college interview but finds the interviewer dead of an apparent heart attack. A paramedic who arrives insists he take the envelop on the man's desk and Quentin is astonished to discover that it contains the manuscript for a supposed long lost sixth novel to the Fillory series. But even more astonishing is that he soon finds himself transported to a magical school Brakebills where he is given a series of admittance tests along with other candidates. For the final test, he surprises himself by conjuring magic and he is admitted to the school.

Quentin's parents are spelled to not worry about the strange unknown school that he enrolls in. Quentin's separation from his parents is a bit abrupt and severe, but I take it as symbolic of what all teenagers long to do. The break enables him to focus on his studies and rarely return home. He becomes friends with a girl named Alice who is also a very intelligent overachiever. Indeed all the students at the school are geniuses and overachievers. There's a strong competition between all of them. He and Alice are promoted to the next class ahead of schedule, providing some friction to a boy named Penny who didn't make the cut. They start hanging out with others who have the same focus in physical magic, a boy named Eliot and a girl named Janet. Janet and Eliot's cynicism and hedonism infect Alice and Quentin.

The story takes a dark turn when Quentin tries to play a trick on a teacher and ends up letting a strange and powerful spirit take over the classroom while the teacher and the students are frozen for most of a day. The spirit takes the form of a man in a suit with a branch in front of his face. His presence strikes fear into the students. Quentin feels guilty about his transgression and especially that one of the students died, but he doesn't confess that he may have enabled the spirit to transgress into this dimension.

One of the fun things about this novel is that each character is distinct with his or her own agenda. Janet is the headstrong one with contempt for the school administration. Eliot is the hedonist. Alice sometimes broods and has a dark secret. Quentin is both drawn to them and sometimes fearful of them. This gives the story a complex and grainy feel.

When Quentin and his friends graduate they are aimless for a good time, in the tradition of many young adults, even magicians apparently. But suddenly Penny approaches the group with a big surprise, he has found a magical button that will enable them to travel to Fillory. The whole group is excited. Quentin especially is determined to play out his fantasies and have an adventure in the magical land. The group jumps into Fillory, but not before a pair of betrayals sets a dark tone to the adventure. What they find in Fillory surprises them all.

This book is very enjoyable to read. It takes several different subjects each of which could support a story in its own right. Quentin is a typical broody teenager yet we immediately identify with him. We want him to go to Brakebills and learn magic; to fall for Alice; to explore Fillory and find answers to the questions left open by the last book. The travels through Fillory are fraught with perils of a magical land as well as the torment of the group falling apart with infighting. Quentin discovers that even though he has reached his childhood dreams there are dark elements that can ensure he will never be happy again. A-

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